Visualizing ideal self vs. actual self through avatars: Impact on preventive health outcomes

Youjeong Kim, S. Shyam Sundar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


The self-discrepancy between one's actual self and one's ideal self, which is associated with negative emotional states (e.g., depression) or unhealthy lifestyles (e.g., eating disorders), is mostly caused and intensified by exposure to unrealistic images of others (e.g., celebrities or magazine models). Drawing from regulatory focus theory, the current study examines whether creating self-resembling avatars, especially those that resemble our ideal selves, could counteract this negative effect of self-discrepancy. The results of a between-subject experiment (N = 95) indicated that user-created self-reflecting avatars made salient different mental images of their bodies based on whether they customized their avatars to look like their actual or ideal selves, and consequently influenced their perceptions toward their physical body through two different self-regulatory systems (i.e., promotion-focused and prevention-focused), with consequences for health outcomes. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1356-1364
Number of pages9
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • General Psychology


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