In Second Life, virtual women reveal more skin, regardless of body proportions

Posted By News On December 26, 2012 - 11:24pm

And now, some truly useless post-Christmas research.

In the virtual world of Second Life, female avatars expose substantially more skin than males, independent of their virtual body proportions, according to research published December 26 in PLOS ONE by Matthieu Guitton, who researches perception and human behavior in virtual spaces, and colleagues from Laval University, Canada.

The human tendency to cover up stems from climatic, environmental, physical and cultural constraints, so measuring people's propensity to reveal skin can be difficult in the real world.

To study human behavior free of at least some of these constraints, the academics analyzed how male and female avatars in the virtual, 3- dimensional world of Second Life dressed. Second Life offers users options to choose the gender, appearance and attire of their virtual avatars, and users can select clothing from several items created in this virtual world, rather than being restricted to a predefined costume.

They found that out of over 400 virtual people studied, 71% of male avatars covered between 75-100% of their skin, while only 5% of females did. In contrast, 47% of the virtual females they studied covered between 25-49% of their skin, compared to 9% of males.

The amount of skin covered was independent of traditional gender-specific measures of physical attractiveness for virtual avatars, such as waist-chest ratios for females. According to the study, "These findings have implications for understanding how sex specific aspects of skin disclosure influence human social interactions in both virtual and real settings."

Guitton adds, "Virtual settings provide a unique tool to study human behavior unhindered by physical and environmental constraints.This tool enabled us to find a dramatic gender difference in the propensity to disclose naked skin."

Most importantly, it's the end of the fiscal year and the credit card cleared, so this makes its way into a journal.

As a 6 year resident and business owner in SL, I was not surprised by the findings of your study, though I felt compelled to suggest a further review of your findings in lieu of an important fact. From the information provided it is not clear if the humans behind the avatars in your case study had specified gender, or only the gender of the avatars that they control. It has been my experience, and is somewhat common knowledge among those who have been in SL for longer than a few months, that a large number of users there choose genders which are the opposite of their real life gender. Generally, as one may expect, the percentage leans heavily in favor of males who have female avatars, though many have both, as you are allowed to have multiple accounts, known as "alts" rather than the primary or main accounts they use. This feature of SL allows, as do many of the features there, people to explore other aspects of themselves which many are unable to explore due to the cultural, social, religious or personal stigmas which prohibit them from doing so in real life. While this is, in terms of personal growth, a benefit and one of the wonders of virtual realities, it can also, as I suspect in this case study on clothing, flaw or skew the results unexpectedly.

Consider that if, indeed, a portion of your selected residents were males playing female roles, then the results would certainly show a comparative difference in the amount of skin revealed. While I must admit that there is certainly no shortage of scantily-clad female avatars in SL, I do wonder what percentage of your case study had identified themselves as male or female humans. I do not think the findings would have shown such a majority if choosing only female humans playing female avatars, though the numbers would still indicate a difference from human behavior in real life, which is as it should be. That is a consequence (or benefit) of fantasy and what virtual realities excel at providing.

This "feature" of virtual worlds also extends to providing those with physical handicaps, psychological and social issues the ability to exist without them or find a place to deal with them.

I myself have put on a dress or two in there, both as a male and with a female alt, and while it did get a lot of laughs yet did not really do anything for me sexually or psychologically, my experience is not the norm there in regards to transgender-ism or cross-dressing and thus irrelevant in considering those communities, which exist there largely free of the unfortunate social and societal problems faced in real life. I looked as bad in a dress there as I imagine I would in real life. What I learned is that I never want to find out, so there's that.

I have to echo Max's reservations about the gender of the avatar typist. I run a women's clothing store on InWorldz, a virtual world based on Second Life. My store sells classic styled, easy-fit clothes for women and our tag-line is: We've got you covered.

I hear from from women running female avatars who tell me they were thrilled to find clothes that covered their "belly, butt and boobs" and were happy to have that choice in their virtual wardrobe. My best ad response is to copy that makes jokes about wardrobe malfunctions.

Most women like to show off their bodies now and again under certain circumstances, but they want the power to make the decision and to have alternatives. It's our body, we get to choose.

As an 8 year resident of Second Life I agree with Max and would like to add that I think age can also have a factor on how an avatar dresses. I notice the longer and more established an avatar gets the more they tend to cover up. A lot of new avatars pick up freebies and they don't always have a good selection of clothes to choose from. Once they decide to stay and start investing in their avatar, often the clothes become less revealing.

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