I can’t say that I’m surprised but it turns out that, just like in the real world, men in the virtual world judge women by their looks.
New Scientist reports on an Indiana University study which showed the degree of empathy that men showed toward virtual avatars depended on their attractiveness. The study was framed as a medical ethics question: male panelists were asked to play the role of doctor for a female patient who asked that they not disclose certain medical information to her husband. The patient’s avatars were presented as either a real woman superimposed on a computer generated (CG) background or a CG woman on the same CG background. The images were then either edited to move in a smooth, natural way, or a a jerky, unnatural way. It turns out that the avatar “doctor” was more likely to go along with the avatar “patient’s” request if he considered her to be attractive.
The study director concluded that “The different response from volunteers could suggest men showed more empathy towards characters that they see as a potential mate….” Of course nothing is ever that simple: another researcher believes that the men’s response could be related to the fact that the avatars were presented as too sexy (with a bare midriff and fuller breasts.) This difference between the real and avatar may have made the men think the avatar version was “loose” and less honest. You can follow the link to read the entire debate but which ever way you choose to interpret the data it could provide an interesting glimpse inside the male psyche.