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Title: Self-objectification through avatars: An experimental study on the effect of video games on self-objectification among adolescents
Authors: Driesmans, Karolien
Vandenbosch, Laura
Eggermont, Steven
Vandepaer, Michiel
Issue Date: Feb-2014
Conference: Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap location:Wageningen, Nederland date:3-4 februari 2014
Abstract: Popular media, such as video games, have been criticized for sexualizing the female and male body; they have repeatedly been shown to emphasize the sexual appeal of characters while ignoring their personalities (e.g., Martins et al., 2009). Objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) hypothesizes that exposure to sexualizing media triggers self-objectification, i.e. the endorsement of an objectified view of one’s own body. Self-objectification, in turn, has been identified as a factor in various mental and physical health risks (Moradi & Huang, 2008). The present study examined the influence of sexualizing video games on adolescents’ state self-objectification. It expands prior research on this topic in four ways. First, while objectification studies have particularly examined traditional mass media, such as television and magazines (e.g., Aubrey, 2008), APA (2007) has called for more research on interactive media, such as videogames. Second, although adolescence is a critical period of identity formation, making even a slight increase in self-objectification potentially harmful, this type of research has rarely been conducted among adolescents (Tiggemann, 2011). Third, in contrast to the scholarly focus on sexualized women in media and female media users (e.g., Vandenbosch & Eggermont, 2012), the current experiment extends this research by exploring how male and female adolescents are affected by interacting with sexualized male and female avatars. Moreover, the moderating influence of gender congruency between media characters (i.e. avatar) and media users (i.e. player) on the effect of sexualizing videogames is examined. Fourth, schema theory suggests that repeated activation of sexualized self-schemas by exposure to sexualizing media intensifies the short-term effect of playing a sexualizing videogame (Hansen & Hansen, 1988). The proposed moderating role of media frequency will therefore be explored.
Early adolescents (N=82) participated in a between-subjects experiment with 3 conditions (Mage = 13.36, SD = .68). “The Story of Arado” was selected as game since it can be played with three different avatars. A male and female avatar (condition 1 and 2) are portrayed in a sexualizing manner, while the wizard is shown in a neutral way (i.e. control condition). Adolescents were asked to play the game for 15 minutes with either the wizard, male or female avatar.
A two-way independent ANOVA revealed a main effect of the avatar on self-objectification, but no interaction effect between gender and avatar. It seems that the effect is not limited to the gender of the avatar and/or the gender of the media user. In addition, a significant interaction effect between the avatar and gaming frequency emerged; the avatar only influenced the participants who frequently play games. Frequent players in the control condition (wizard) have lower self-objectification levels compared to the other conditions. These results are in line with the assumptions of schema theory.
Taken together, the study shows that interacting with a sexualizing avatar triggers state self-objectification in male and female adolescents, irrespective of the avatar’s gender, and that this effect is moderated by gaming frequency.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: AMa
Appears in Collections:Leuven School for Mass Communication Research
Formerly "Subfaculteit Antwerpen/Taal & Communicatie - TM A"
Research Centre for Marketing and Consumer Science, Leuven

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