A study from the University of Missouri shows that the link between virtual video game avatars and the player's physical body might be greater than once expected, with the study finding that players who strongly relate to fit avatars in the virtual world might be encouraged to become healthier in the real world.
The study, conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, surveyed 249 players of the game Second Life to see how identifying with a virtual representation of the self influenced a person's life in the physical world.
Published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, the study found that "the avatar links the virtual to the physical body, and, through this interplay of one's online and offline identities, the virtual may become meaningful to the physical body and self."
An example provided in the study is for someone looking to lose weight, creating a fitter avatar helps them visualize being in better shape and motivates them to take action.
Behm-Morawitz says that while a virtual world like Second Life is not used specifically as a motivational health tool, the findings of the study suggest that someone who participates in a virtual world for social reasons is more likely to experience the effects of the avatar. She says the results aren't limited to Second Life, either. Any virtual world that gives the player control over the design and interaction of the avatar can have similar effects.