Role-playing gender : effects of avatar sexuality on self-perception of gender identity

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The use of digital avatars to represent individuals in virtual worlds and social media has rapidly become commonplace. Highly vivid animated avatars are no longer restricted to elite video gaming. As avatar use increases, the effects of human avatar interaction become increasingly important to explore and understand. One unexpected phenomenon of widespread avatar use is the large number of individuals who choose to use exclusively opposite gender avatars as self-representations, a choice to "bend" their virtual gender when online. Up to 80% of players participate in virtual gender-bending at some point while gaming. There is ample evidence that the behavior occurs but little research has been conducted exploring potential effects of gender-opposite avatar play. This paper describes an empirical effort to identify and quantify effects of cross-gender avatar play on self-perception of gender identity. The study described herein 1) outlines and defines what masculinity and femininity mean in the context of fantasy avatars, and 2) measures and analyzes effects of opposite gender avatars on self-perception of gender identity. The observed outcome provides initial evidence that cross-gender avatar play affects self-perception of gender for a significant number of individuals. Both males and females respond to playing opposite gender avatars by adjusting their self-perception of gender role toward their natural gender. Implications for avatar design, entertainment media development, and future research are discussed.


Type of resource text
Form electronic; electronic resource; remote
Extent 1 online resource.
Publication date 2017
Issuance monographic
Language English


Associated with Scarborough, James K
Associated with Stanford University, Department of Communication.
Primary advisor Reeves, Byron, 1949-
Thesis advisor Reeves, Byron, 1949-
Thesis advisor Bailenson, Jeremy
Thesis advisor Turner, Fred
Thesis advisor Walton, Gregory M. (Gregory Mariotti)
Advisor Bailenson, Jeremy
Advisor Turner, Fred
Advisor Walton, Gregory M. (Gregory Mariotti)


Genre Theses

Bibliographic information

Statement of responsibility James K. Scarborough.
Note Submitted to the Department of Communication.
Thesis Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2017.
Location electronic resource

Access conditions

© 2017 by James Karl Scarborough
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).

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