Your online avatar may give accurate information about your personality, especially how outgoing or anxious you are, a new study suggests. Researchers at York University, Canada, looked at what personality traits are conveyed by a user's avatar, an image that represents the self in a virtual world.
They found that some personality traits are accurately communicated better than others through a person's online avatar. It was easier to perceive how outgoing or anxious a person is based on an avatar compared to how open to new experiences or conscientious the person is, researchers said. Outgoing and sociable individuals tend to create avatars that communicate their personality.
In contrast, people who are high in neuroticism tend to create avatars that don't communicate their personality accurately. An avatar can range from simple drawings (eg, Mii characters on Nintendo Wii) to detailed three-dimensional renderings of characters (eg, World of Warcraft).
Avatars allow individuals to express, or suppress, various physical or psychological traits in a digital world. Previous research has shown that individuals typically choose and prefer avatars perceived to be similar to themselves. The researchers included two components of profile similarity in their analysis - overall accuracy and distinctive accuracy.
Overall accuracy is how well personality can be predicted as a whole, and is the sum of both distinctive accuracy and expectations based on typical norms. "For example, if my perception of someone's extraversion closely matches their true level of extraversion, without any reference to how this related to average levels of extraversion, this is overall accuracy," said lead researcher Katrina Fong.
"If I can accurately perceive how much more extraverted than average a person is, that involves distinctive accuracy," Fong said. In the first phase of the study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, participants created customised avatars, and in the second phase of the study a different set of participants viewed and rated the avatars created in the first phase.
Creators were assessed on five major traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Researchers found that people who are more agreeable and more typical of the general population in personality tend to create avatars that elicit friendship intentions of others.
Avatars with open eyes, a smile or grin, an oval face, brown hair and/or a sweater were more likely to elicit friendship intentions. In contrast, avatars with a neutral expression, or any other expression other than a smile, black hair, short hair, a hat, and/or sunglasses were less likely to elicit friendship intentions.