The Psychologist has an article on the surprising effect of seeing a digital avatar of yourself – as if looking at your body from the outside.
The piece covers a range of effects found in psychology studies, from increasing healthy behaviour to encouraging false memories, but the bit on deliberate avatar-manipulation for advertising caught my attention.
One such consequence is depicted in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story Minority Report. Specifically, there was a scene in which Tom Cruise’s character looked up at a billboard and encountered an advertisement using his own name. That marketing feat can certainly be recreated in virtual reality. We’ve demonstrated that if a participant sees his avatar wearing a certain brand of clothing, he is more likely to recall and prefer that brand.
In other words, if one observes his avatar as a product endorser (the ultimate form of targeted advertising), he is more likely to embrace the product. There is a fairly large literature in psychology on the ‘self-referencing’ effect, which demonstrates that messages that connect with the receiver’s identity tend to be more effective than generic messages (e.g. Rogers et al., 1977)
To explore the consequences of viewing one’s virtual doppelgänger, we ran a simple experiment using digitally manipulated photographs (Ahn & Bailenson, 2011). We used imaging software to place participants’ heads on people depicted in billboards using fictitious brands, for example holding up a soft drink with a brand label on it.
After the study, participants expressed better memory as well as a preference for the brand, even though it was obvious their faces had been placed in the advertisement. In other words, even though it was clearly a gimmick, using the digital self to promote a product is effective.
The article also notes that “Based on the findings from this study, the Silicon Valley company LinkedIn is featuring job advertisements that pull the photograph of the job applicant and place it in the job advertisement.”
Needless to say, I can’t wait for the next wave of ‘penis enlargement pill’ adverts.
Link to Psychologist article on doppelgänger psychology.
Declaration of interest: I’m an unpaid associate editor and occasional columnist for The Psychologist. My new year’s resolution is to stop buying promising-looking capsules from the internet.