Sex matters in virtual worlds, females more naked, says avatar study

First Posted: Dec 27, 2012 11:29 AM EST

Virtually more naked: Female avatars expose substantially more skin than males in the virtual world of Second Life, according to research just published in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Matthieu Guitton and colleagues from Laval University, Canada.

The idea of the study was to look at 3D avatars in a virtual world, where some of the real-world factors like climatic, environmental, physical and cultural constraints don't apply, in order to independently study the human tendency to cover up or reveal skin. The researchers chose the virtual, 3- dimensional world of Second Life to analyze how male and female avatars dressed. Second Life offers users options to choose the gender, appearance and attire of their virtual avatars, and users can select clothing from several items created in this virtual world, rather than being restricted to a predefined costume.

Guitton commented on the setup that "virtual settings provide a unique tool to study human behavior unhindered by physical and environmental constraints.This tool enabled us to find a dramatic gender difference in the propensity to disclose naked skin."

Out of over 400 virtual people studied, 71% of male avatars covered between 75-100% of their skin, while only 5% of females did. In contrast, 47% of the virtual females they studied covered between 25-49% of their skin, compared to 9% of males. The amount of skin covered was independent of traditional gender-specific measures of physical attractiveness for virtual avatars, such as waist-chest ratios for females. According to the study, "These findings have implications for understanding how sex specific aspects of skin disclosure influence human social interactions in both virtual and real settings."

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