Date of Award

2014

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

School of Journalism and Mass Communications

First Advisor

Sei-Hill Kim

Abstract

The present study examines the joint impact of relationship with one's avatar and negative consequences to the avatar on changing behavioral intentions (CBI) in terms of alcohol-impaired driving. Avatars are users' visual self-representation in a virtual world, and play a major role to build the users' digital identity. One hundred eleven participants volunteered to participate in several experimental conditions where the degree of choice of avatar features and the degree of active control of the avatar were manipulated in Second Life, an immersive 3D virtual environment. Participants who were allowed to customize their avatar viewed their avatar more similar and emotionally close to themselves and more physically attractive than those who were assigned a basic avatar. Participants in the choice and control condition were more likely to change BI positively when they identified their avatar as similar to themselves and viewed their avatar as more attractive. After observing the car accident due to an intoxicated driver, in the choice and control condition, participants' higher alcohol consumption and negative driving experience while intoxicated were positively associated with the degree of relationship with their avatar, and influenced participants' willingness to change BI positively. Participants who were allowed to control their avatar were more likely to attribute the responsibility of the car crash to themselves than those who observed someone else's avatar playing. Participants who felt distressed about the car crash also blamed their avatar and themselves for the accident. Implications for the use of virtual reality games in promoting healthy behaviors are discussed in detail.

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Communication Commons

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