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Chapter 14 Virtual Doppelgangers: Psychological Effects of Avatars Who Ignore Their Owners

By Jeremy N. Bailenson and Kathryn Y. Segovia


Imagine a world where multiple versions of yourself exist. These other versions of you may look like you but need not behave like you. Famous authors and screenwriters have depicted this type of scenario multiple times in movies and literary works. For example, in the film Being John Malkovich, the actor Malkovich wakes up in a restaurant and looks across the table (Jonze 1999). There is a woman wearing a revealing evening dress, but as his gaze pans up, he is stunned to see his own head on top of the voluptuous female form. Seconds later, a waiter walks by and is also wearing his head. His psychological response is predictably dire, and the terror only increases as he pans across the room and realizes that every single person in the restaurant, ranging from jazz singers to midgets, is wearing his head. He is literally trapped in a room full of identical twins behaving independently of his own intentions and actions. In Edgar Allan Poe’s William Wilson, the main character William meets another boy who shares his name (Poe 1839). Throughout the story, William’s double changes to act and look more like William. William grows frustrated with his double who is constantly mimicking him and giving him unsolicited advice and eventually stabs his double to death. Additionally, in a powerful scene in William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), one of the main characters, Riviera, forces a character named Molly to witness a hologram of herself perform a number of unspeakable acts. Molly’s physical self observes the interaction, but she cannot control the actions of the other version of herself. The above scenarios may seem like situations that would only be possible in science fiction, but if we take a close look at today’s digital media, we find that virtual versions of ourselves exist in many different places

Topics: 175 176 J.N. Bailenson and K.Y. Segovia
Year: 2013
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