The right avatar may remind us that we’re all human. And in turn, reinforce us to respond more empathetically toward others online.
So says new research from Laramie Taylor (2010) who looked at people’s responses in the Yahoo Answers Q&A service. People sign on to Yahoo Answers to ask their own questions, or answer other people’s questions about any and every topic imaginable.
Two studies were conducted to examine whether avatars elicit more emotional involvement — like empathy — from people who answer the questions. The researcher also hypothesized that questions that have avatars will receive more answers than those that don’t.
The first study looked at 881 answers in response to 132 questions on Yahoo Answers. The second study examined the altruistic nature of people who answered questions and their avatar usage, and looked at 125 responses. Responses were coded by independent raters.
The researcher found that avatars increased the sense of emotional involvement in this kind of community. Questions that used an avatar received more empathetic answers. And people who had more altruistic motivations had a stronger preference for answering questions posted by someone with an avatar.
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