Proteus Effect

Anyone who changes their behavior in virtual worlds based on the representation of the avatar they are playing is subject to the Proteus Effect.

This is behavior that people in virtual worlds - for example in video games - exhibit because they think that the visual appearance is linked to the expectations of others. The appearance of "one's own avatar" thus evokes a certain behavior in order to fulfill stereotypes and expectations of other people in the virtual world.


The effect was named after the Greek god Proteus. Proteus is also a god of the sea, similar to Poseidon, and possesses similar abilities, especially the ability to metamorphose - or in other words to spontaneously change his shape.


It is assumed that three psychological constructs determine the Proteus Effect: Behavioral confirmation, self-perception and deindividuation.

Behavioral confirmation means that stereotypes are activated by the presence of others and that this results in a behavior that is supposed to fulfill the expectation(s) of the observer. According to self-perception theory, in order to determine one's own attitudes and feelings, individuals observe both their own behavior and the circumstances that led to the behavior. Deindividuation means that people feel so strongly a part of a group (or society) that they no longer perceive themselves as individuals.


Why is this interesting or problematic? Research has shown that players who consciously make their avatar more attractive have become more self-confident. Black clothing is supposed to encourage more aggressive behavior.

Sitting in the role of a superhero has made people more helpful - even shortly after the game experience.

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