by Jorge Peña, Jeffrey T. Hancock, and Nicholas A. Merola

The study extends research on the Proteus effect by demonstrating that avatars can prime
negative attitudes and cognition in desktop virtual settings. Experiment 1 shows that, after
virtual group discussions, participants using black-cloaked avatars developed more aggressive
intentions and attitudes but less group cohesion than those using white-cloaked avatars.
In Experiment 2, individual participants using a Ku Klux Klan (KKK)-associated avatar
created more aggressive Thematic Apperception Test stories in comparison to a control
group. Participants using the KKK avatar also wrote less affiliative stories in comparison to
those employing avatars dressed as doctors. Overall, the resulting pattern of activation of
negative thoughts (i.e., aggression) coupled with the inhibition of inconsistent thoughts (i.e.,
cohesion, affiliation) is consistent with principles of current priming models and provides
initial evidence for automatic cognitive priming in virtual settings.(download)