Self presentation through avatars: The influence of homophily, identifying with the image, and social reflection on choice of avatar

Date of Completion

January 2009


Psychology, Social|Speech Communication|Mass Communications




Both online and offline people engage in identity construction through self presentation (Arkin & Shepperd, 1990; Schlenker, 1980, 1985, 2003). Offline, people self present through language and behaviors; people are also self presenting online but are using different ways and means, including through avatars. An avatar is the self-representation online; people use avatars to communicate information about themselves, and others use them to form impressions of the people they represent. ^ Little is known about how people self present through avatars. Some research suggests that people self present through avatars they perceive are homophilous or have similar characteristics to their own. This dissertation sought to extend the understanding of how people self present online by explicating the process of how people choose avatars for this purpose. Specifically, it examined the influence of two dimensions of homophily—appearance and psychological—on choice, as well as how identifying with the image and social reflection mediate this process. ^ Results (N = 327) indicate that both dimensions of homophily play a role in choosing an avatar for a representation, suggesting that people are conveying both offline appearance characteristics and psychological identity elements through avatars perceived as homophilous along these dimensions. Avatars perceived as homophilous in appearance play a dual role, as they are used to either convey offline appearance characteristics to those online or to communicate psychological identity elements (through appearance). This suggests that even online the offline physical body plays a prominent role in social interaction. ^ These data imply that choosing an avatar for self presentation is not a cursory process. Not only do people evaluate the homophily of avatars, but those perceived as psychologically homophilous elicit a deeper sense of connection and are more likely to be chosen. In addition, people also engage in an act of social reflection, or objective speculation as to how others will view them via the avatar, before making their choice. Overall, choosing an avatar for self presentation involves evaluation of the message the avatar sends and a projective assessment of the self presentation outcome associated with using the avatar as a representation. ^