Fox, J., Bailenson, J.N., & Binney, J. (2009). Virtual experiences, physical behaviors: The effect of presence on imitation of an eating avatar. PRESENCE: Teleoperators & Virtual Environments, 18(4), 294-303.
In this study, the role of presence in the imitation of a virtual model was examined. Immersive virtual environment technology (IVET) was used to create photorealistic virtual representations of the self that were depicted eating food in a virtual world. Changes in the virtual environment (via a changing or unchanging body) were incorporated to create variance in perceived subjective presence. Based on previous research, presence was hypothesized to affect the relationship between the environmental manipulations and the behavioral outcome of imitating the avatar’s eating behavior. Here we show that presence did indeed affect imitation, but that the effects varied for men and women in accordance with previous research on sex differences in eating behavior. Men who experienced high presence were more likely than low presence men to imitate the virtual model and eat candy, whereas women who experienced high presence were more likely than low presence women to suppress the behavior and not eat candy.