Yee, N. & Bailenson, J.N. (2009). The difference between being and seeing: The relative contribution of self perception and priming to behavioral changes via digital self-representation. Media Psychology, 12(2), 195-209.
Studies in the Proteus Effect (N. Yee & J. Bailenson, 2007) have shown that the appearance of avatars (i.e., digital representations of ourselves) can lead to behavioral changes in users. For example, participants in attractive avatars became friendlier to confederate strangers than participants in unattractive avatars. While the Proteus Effect is premised on self-perception theory (D. Bem, 1972)—the notion that we infer our own attitudes by observing ourselves as if from a third party—it is also possible that the previous findings were caused by priming (i.e., behavioral assimilation; J. Bargh, M. Chen, & L. Burrows, 1996). In our study, we used immersive virtual environment technology to experimentally tease apart embodiment from perception of the same visual stimulus. Our results showed that embodiment produced significantly larger behavioral changes than mere observation of the same visual stimuli. These findings support the claim that our avatars provide a unique lever to behavioral change; however, more work is needed to pin down the exact mechanism behind the effect.