The current technology for creating computerized avatars for human interactions is relatively primitive. Judith Donath of MIT's Media Lab argues that this situation is likely to be temporary. She suggests that as programmers respond to the demand for more realistic human behavior in avatars, they will necessarily create the technology to manipulate human trust via the results.
Right now, even the most sophisticated avatars accomplish only a small subset of these behavioral collections. That's beginning to change, at least within the research community, where entire suites of behavior can be controlled by a single command. For example, an avatar commanded to end a conversation can nod its head, wave, and break eye contact. Users of such systems found them natural and more engaging, and they found their conversation partners to be more expressive.
In one experiment, researchers blended the face of a viewer with that of a presidential candidate. The blend was subtle enough that the viewer did not detect it, yet the new resemblance to the candidate was effective: candidates thus transformed were perceived to be more familiar—and therefore more desirable—than candidates who were not altered.
In another, an avatar that had been programmed to maintain constant eye gaze spoke with the subject. Such persistent scrutiny is almost unheard-of in the real world– we typically look at the person we’re talking to only about 40% of the time,or 70% of the time when we are listening. The intense gaze discomfited the subjects, but was at the same time, persuasive.
Other factors play into an avatar's trustworthiness and credibility. For example, simply making an avatar appear more human (including providing it with a clear gender) caused them to be rated more trustworthy.
Messages are more persuasive when they are delivered by an avatar with a subtle resemblance to the listener's own face. Teams of people paid greater attention to an avatar that was created with a "team face," one that combined features from the members of the team.
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