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virtual embodiment

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Virtual embodiment is the perception of sensory feedback related to an individual’s virtual, non-physical body, also known as an avatar, and the effect it has on the individual’s cognition. Virtual embodiment comes as an offshoot of the study of embodiment cognition.

Embodiment cognition research shows how the aspects of an individual’s body seem to generate built-in tendencies in how that individual perceives the world. Those aspects include motor functions, height, number of limbs, handedness and the body’s interactions with the environment. While the virtual aspect might lead one to think virtual embodiment applies only to virtual, augmented and mixed reality, the effects are demonstrated in less immersive simulations and games as well.

Variations in the ways that individuals with different bodies interact with and within an environment result in differences in how they mentally view and experience the environment. Virtual embodiment is the similar effect on the perception of the virtual and real world brought about by a virtual body or bodies.

Virtual embodiment demonstrates the plasticity of consciousness for adaptation to different and changing virtual bodies. It also shows how the use of virtual bodies affects one’s perceptions of the real world and one’s own real body. Virtual embodiment offers interesting opportunities for the science of embodiment cognition, too. The infinite variety of unlikely, or even impossible, avatar bodies offers endless variables to study. By convincing the brain more or less with virtual experiences, the study of the effects of changing virtual bodies can help shed light on how regular embodiment cognition works in ways not otherwise possible.

This was last updated in June 2018

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