Peña, J., & Hancock, J. T., & Merola, N. A. (2009). The priming effects of avatars in virtual settings. Communication Research, 36, 838-856.
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Abstract

The study extends research on the Proteus effect by demonstrating that avatars can prime negative attitudes and cognition in desktop virtual settings. Experiment 1 shows that, after virtual group discussions, participants using black-cloaked avatars developed more aggressive intentions and attitudes but less group cohesion than those using white-cloaked avatars. In Experiment 2, individual participants using a Ku Klux Klan (KKK)-associated avatar created more aggressive Thematic Apperception Test stories in comparison to a control group. Participants using the KKK avatar also wrote less affiliative stories in comparison to those employing avatars dressed as doctors. Overall, the resulting pattern of activation of negative thoughts (i.e., aggression) coupled with the inhibition of inconsistent thoughts (i.e., cohesion, affiliation) is consistent with principles of current priming models and provides initial evidence for automatic cognitive priming in virtual settings.