Effects of avatar appearance on healthy eating intentions: exploring the effects of avatar body size

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientificpeer-review


Avatar users tend to adapt their real-world behaviour to their avatar’s appearance; this has been coined the Proteus Effect. An example thereof, is that playing an exergame with an overweight avatar decreases the amount of physical activity in reality. The Proteus Effect in relation to eating behaviour is understudied, as well as the effects that visual perspective could have on the strength of the Proteus Effect. Therefore, this study aimed to answer the following RQ: To what extent does experiencing an overweight (compared to normal-weight) avatar lead to lower intentions to eat healthy, and is this effect stronger in a 3rd compared to a 1st person perspective?

A 2 (avatar body size: normal-weight vs. overweight) x2 (visual perspective: 1st vs. 3rd person) between-subjects experiment was conducted (N=148). Participants went grocery-shopping for lunch in a virtual supermarket. Afterwards they filled out a questionnaire measuring, among other constructs, intentions to eat healthy.

The ANOVA revealed a significant interaction effect (p = .046), but in an unexpected direction. A simple effects analysis showed that, in the 3rd person perspective, those in the overweight condition held more positive intentions to eat healthy, than those in the normal-weight condition (p = .021). An alternative explanation for this finding is that the overweight avatar could have functioned as a fear appeal, leading to increased intentions to perform danger-controlling behaviour (i.e., healthy eating). Future studies should investigate whether avatar body weight effects are caused by threat appraisals rather than the components underlying the Proteus Effect.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventEuropean Health Psychology Society Conference (EHPS): Health psychology approaches to tackle global challenges -
Duration: 23 Aug 202127 Aug 2021
Conference number: 35


ConferenceEuropean Health Psychology Society Conference (EHPS)
Internet address


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