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The Proteus Effect describes a situation where an individual's behavior or mentality is affected by a user's online persona, digital image, profile or identity. It is used to determine the changeability or suggestibility of a person's digital or virtual identity.
A basic way to think about the Proteus Effect is to consider online avatars that people create for video games, social media platforms and other purposes.
From the most basic avatars, which are just screen names and basic images, to fully developed virtual profiles, these online/virtual identities have the ability to affect people. In some cases, people may begin to self-represent their digital selves. This phenomenon has received attention from researchers and scientists who study interactions between humans and technologies.
The most well-known venue of the Proteus Effect is massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). With billions of dollars spent on MMORPGs worldwide, this trend in digital self-representation can provide data. Experts have noted that because avatars and profiles mimic the human form and experience, players often begin identifying with their online identities and may alter their physical ones to fit their virtual equivalents.
The Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) has researched a female tendency to objectify or sexualize themselves through their avatars. By studying these types of behaviors, scientists believe they can help build solutions for some societal problems that are caused or exacerbated by unhealthy online behaviors or trends.