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Digital Media

Transformations in Human Communication

Edited By Paul Messaris and Lee Humphreys

The age of digital media has given rise to a new social world. It is a world in which the transmission of information from the few to the many is steadily being supplanted by the multi-directional flow of facts, lies, and ideas. It is a world in which hundreds of millions of people are voluntarily depositing large amounts of personal details in publicly accessible databases. It is a world in which interpersonal relationships are increasingly being conducted in the virtual sphere. Above all, this is a world that seems to be veering off in unpredictable ways from the trends of the immediate past. This book is a probing examination of that world, and of the changes that it has ushered into our lives.

In more than thirty essays by a wide range of scholars, this must-have second edition examines the impact of digital media in six areas – information, persuasion, community, gender and sexuality, surveillance and privacy, and cross-cultural communication – and offers an invaluable guide for students and scholars alike. With one exception, all essays are completely new or revised for this volume.

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Chapter 12: The Proteus Effect and Virtual Doppelgängers: Changes in Appearance and Behavior from the Mediated to the Real World (Bireswar Laha / Jeremy N. Bailenson)


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The Proteus Effect and Virtual Doppelgängers

Changes in Appearance and Behavior from the Mediated to the Real World

Bireswar Laha and Jeremy N. Bailenson


In a chapter written for this book’s previous edition (Bailenson, 2006), we reviewed how immersive virtual environments (IVEs) provide a collaborative medium to study the theory of transformed social interaction (TSI). We discussed empirical studies related to multilateral perspective taking, non-zero sum gaze, and digital chameleons, under the theory of TSI. We also introduced features of virtual reality (VR) that are essential for creating mediated experiences in online collaborative environments enabling TSI.

In this chapter, we first introduce VR from a technical standpoint and highlight its features that make it a unique tool for psychology research. We then present a series of research studies into how independent modifications to the way we look (the Proteus effect) and behave (Doppelgängers) in IVEs change our attitude and behavior in the physical world. We conclude by discussing the implications of the findings as IVEs become more ubiquitous and commonplace, with multiple consumer-priced VR headsets available now in the market.

Immersive Virtual Reality as a Tool for Psychology Research

Jaron Lanier is credited with coining the term virtual reality or VR (Blascovich & Bailenson, 2011). The technical roots of VR can be traced to computer science, as the environment is created and mediated through immersive system...

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