The Proteus effect, the influence of virtual and digital identities over offline behavior, has been studied mostly in boys: “Does video game violence encourage boys to be more aggressive in real life?” But Stanford University just published a new study in Computers and Human Behavior that examines the effects of online role-playing and avatars on girls, and it turns out that virtual representations of women can be harmful to young women’s sense of self.
The study included female subjects ranging from age eighteen to forty; each woman was assigned an avatar and was asked to play a video game. A portion of the women played as “sexualized” women, dressed in clothes with less coverage; the remaining women inhabited more conservatively dressed characters. Some of the women played characters who physically resembled them.
The results are disturbing. The subjects completed a survey after playing the game, and the women who played “sexy avatars who looked like themselves were more likely to answer ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ [to the question, ‘In the majority of rapes, the victim is promiscuous or has a bad reputation’].” In other words, women who played sexualized characters appeared more likely to accept sexist myths about rape and rape culture.
When asked to write a freeform essay, women who used scantily clothed avatars were “more likely to self-objectify.” How concerning is that?! TIME’s Eliana Dockterman acknowledges that the study is small and cannot be definitive, but she suggests a major shift in how video games portray women. Hopefully more research will be done and video game makers will take note!
Thanks to TIME
Image via Daily Dot