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Naturally, I spend a lot of time playing video games and visiting websites that use avatars. I think of them as digital characters, that are human-like, but not necessarily reflective of what I think real people should look like. Aside from cracking a few jokes about the impossible curves of video game vixens - I mean, the Fantastic Four game even put Jessica Alba's body to shame - and the built-in stereotyping, I hardly ever pay attention to avatars.
What's interesting though, is the fact that a recent study showed that androgynous digital personas, ie avatars, are perceived as less trustworthy than ones that are clearly either male or female. It makes me wonder if people honestly find the need to assign gender roles to digital images, or if people are just more accustomed to the exaggerated gender stereotypes that seem to be perpetuated online. According to New Scientist Tech, people typically extend this impression to the person behind the avatar too - meaning avatar design and behavior may have a range of unforeseen psychological influences and that such virtual personas need to be carefully designed to make the right impression.
The issue of trust and personality perception is especially intriguing when you think about the number of people that spend a great deal of time in 3D virtual worlds like Second Life and end up creating avatars to represent themselves and later make virtual friends. Still, not "trusting" an avatar because it's androgynous seems bizarre. Everyone trusts David Bowie, right?