Identifying emotions toward an overweight avatar in Virtual Reality: The moderating effects of visuotactile stimulation and drive for thinness

Nadine Elisa van der Waal*, Julie A.W. van Bokhorst, Laura Nynke van der Laan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Virtual reality technologies can be used to alter one’s body image by inducing ownership of an overweight virtual body. This illusion can possibly lead to both negative affective responses toward the virtual body as well as perceptual changes of one’s own body size, which are both scarcely examined with regard to the embodiment of an overweight avatar. This study’s fundamental aim is to investigate, among healthy weight participants, whether negative affect toward a virtual body and changes in body-size perception can be evoked when embodying an overweight virtual avatar. Additionally, the study investigates whether applying visuotactile stimulation (which has been identified as a proxy for virtual body ownership by previous studies) and drive for thinness influence the strength of these effects. A 2 (healthy weight vs. overweight virtual body) × 2 (congruent vs. incongruent visuotactile stimulation) between-subjects design was employed, with participants’ drive for thinness measured to test its potential moderating effect. ANOVAs revealed that participants (N = 114) experienced significantly more negative affect toward the virtual body when embodying one that was overweight compared to a healthy weight virtual body. Visuotactile stimulation did not moderate this effect, even though the manipulation of visuotactile stimulation worked as intended (i.e., the experience of ownership over the virtual body was significantly higher in the congruent compared to incongruent visuotactile stimulation condition). Additionally, participants with a high drive for thinness did not experience significantly more negative affect than participants with a low drive for thinness. Embodiment of an overweight avatar did not affect body-size perceptions, nor did visuotactile stimulation or the drive for thinness moderate this effect. Knowing that embodiment of an overweight avatar results in negative affective responses toward it, future studies could deepen our understanding of the role of negative affect in the transfer of emotions to one’s own body, and the interplay between negative affect toward a virtual body and body-size perceptions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number989676
JournalFrontiers in Virtual Reality
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2022


  • Body-size perception
  • Drive for thinness
  • Negative affect
  • Virtual body ownership
  • Visuotactile stimulation


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