A familiar face

In this internet age, creating an avatar for online gaming or social media accounts is commonplace. However, not much is known about how users relate to their avatars.

Together with collaborators from Korea, Assoc Prof Jung Younbo and Dr Seo Young-nam from NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information conducted an experiment with 25 participants from a South Korean university.

The participants were shown a random series of eight images for one second each, including a photo and an avatar image of themselves, photos and avatar images of a famous person, an ideal face, and an unfamiliar face. The study subjects related strongly to their photo and avatar image, and more distantly to the other images.

“The individuals felt a higher sense of self-presence when they were exposed to the virtual representation wearing their own faces—regardless of photo or avatar image—than to the ones with other faces. Interestingly, the discrepancy between our survey results and neurological results indicates that even if we do not treat avatars as our equals at a conscious level, our brains certainly do at a subconscious level,” says Assoc Prof Jung.

Designing avatars that mirror users’ facial and physical features will be important as companies employ avatars to engage users, the researchers say.

The research “Avatar face recognition and self-presence” appeared in Computers in Human Behavior (2017), DOI: 10.1016/j. chb.2016.12.020.
This article appeared first in NTU’s research & innovation magazine Pushing Frontiers (issue #12, December 2017).

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