The role of social virtual world in increasing psychological resilience during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic

Iman Paul, Smaraki Mohanty, Rumela Sengupta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has not only impacted the physical health of individuals but the fear and anxiety of contracting the disease has also contributed to psychological distress among people. The current research identifies a novel coping strategy to strengthen individuals' psychological resilience against the pandemic. Study 1 (N = 210) and Study 2 (N = 93) showed significant beneficial effect of representing oneself via avatar in social virtual world (SVW) on the psychological resilience towards contracting COVID-19. Study 2 also showed that this effect is explained by the disembodied (i.e., out-of-body) experience one encounters in the SVW by digitally representing oneself via an avatar), which enables SVW users to project themselves onto a character in a parallel world that is immune to the COVID-19 virus, thus alleviating the anxiety of contracting the virus themselves in the real world. Additionally, it ruled out alternate explanations like escapism and enjoyment. The findings extend the Proteus effect (i.e., individuals behaviorally conform with their avatar's visual/physical appearance) to a more innate feature of the avatar–its imperviousness from the human body's limitations. The results have important implications for health policy makers along with making a strong case for marketing computer-simulated games like SVWs as virtual therapy tools.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107036
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Volume127
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2022

Keywords

  • Avatar
  • COVID-19
  • Proteus effect
  • Psychological resilience
  • Social virtual world

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