“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
One might think, in a virtual world where everyone can present an idealized self, that appearance would cease to matter, but this is not the case. First impressions matter a great deal, even in Second Life. We can use observations drawn from avatar cues (attractiveness, gender, hairstyle) to form personality impressions.
Only a handful of studies have been published to date on which attributes make the best first impressions, but the findings offer a few useful tips on effective cues.
~ Avatars with larger pupils are judged to be more attractive, happier, good humored and sympathetic, even though we are not consciously aware of that trait.
~ Frequent eye blinking (60 blinks per minute) is associated with dishonesty, fearfulness, shyness, and anxiety. Reduce the blink rate to 24 blinks per minute, and your avatar will appear to be more sociable and attractive.
~ Avatars viewed from below are deemed more sociable, self-confident and attractive, compared to those viewed from above, who are deemed weaker and in need of protection. A full frontal view means that avatar will likely be deemed more trustworthy, open and sympathetic.
Certain characteristics of one’s avatar can also be associated with particular personality traits, as defined by the Big Five model currently favored by psychologists. Think OCEAN: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
~ Attractive avatars with long, stylish hair are usually seen as more extroverted.
~ Male avatars with black hair, or wearing jeans, gray shirts, or long-sleeved shirts are seen as introverted.
~ Female avatars with blonde hair wearing pink shirts, necklaces, bathing suits, or high heels are deemed more extroverted.
~ Large breasts on female avatars serve as a cue for extroversion, too, as well as openness — quelle surprise!
~ If they also favor Gothic style clothing, they are seen as more neurotic.
~ Blonde hair and dressy clothes on females correlate with higher agreeableness.
~ Male avatars should avoid army pants, black shirts and sunglasses, lest they be deemed less agreeable.
Remember in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when Harry finds a magic mirror that shows one’s innermost desires? Harry sees himself reunited with his parents, while Ron Weasley sees himself popular and the center of attention, instead of the perennial sidekick/younger sibling. It’s a bit like that. Yet as Dumbledore tells Harry, “The happiest man in the world looks in the mirror and only sees himself exactly as he is.”
The rest of us will just have to settle for virtual wish-fulfillment.