James Cameron may have created the world’s most successful movie with Avatar, but the merging of a real person with their “other world” fake, may not be as far fetched as it sounds. The notion in the film that a personality could exist in two different individuals – one real, the other an avatar – might seem the stuff of fiction, but as new research being conducted at Stanford University shows, those unreal, fake beings are affecting our behaviour. In other words, we are reacting to those non-real representations of people (avatars) as if they were real. They are projecting their “personalities” onto us in some way.

That might sound spooky – and actually makes the movie Avatar look rather out of date now – but it could have potentially brilliant applications. Indeed, your online business could already benefit.

According to research being conducted by communications expert Jesse Fox, people are responding to avatars and changing their behaviour as a result of what they see. In one study, individuals who saw an avatar on a treadmill led to them doing more exercise, if that avatar looked like them. Equally, when people saw an avatar that looked like themselves become thinner on screen, they subsequently exercised more – perhaps in some kind of bid to look like their avatar.

What this research suggests is two things. Firstly, there could be practical value in using avatars made in your own likeness. For instance, if you want to write more blogs, get an avatar that looks like you to do loads of blogging inside something like Second Life and the chances are you will become more motivated to blog yourself.

The second thing the research implies is the powerful impact of personal visualisation. One of the biggest differences between top athletes and very good athletes is in their ability to visualise. The Gold Medal winners can actually “see” themselves winning the race, for instance. Whereas, the not-so-good athlete merely hopes they can get through that tape. The same is true in business; the most successful entrepreneurs are those who have tremendous powers of visualisation such that they can actually see themselves looking at their product’s sales graph in the future. The rest of us, merely predict that will happen – somewhat hopefully.

The avatar, when it looks like us, is clearly enhancing our powers of visualisation. Because the image we see on the computer screen is “us” we can then see ourselves performing in some way and it is therefore much easier for us to achieve that in the real world because we have already “seen ourselves” doing it. Without the avatar, many people are probably unable to complete the visualisation process for themselves.

So, it might well be worthwhile popping yourself onto Second Life, creating an avatar that looks like you and getting it doing the things you have always dreamed of. When you watch your online self doing that, there is a much greater chance you will do it here in the real world. And if you don’t want to go that far, why not get someone to video you blogging at your computer? Then play back that video as you will then be able to see yourself blogging – and this new research implies that this could do the trick in getting you to blog more frequently as it will help your visualise yourself typing away more easily.

Most people do not have brilliant powers of personal visualisation. This Stanford research project shows that avatars can help us boost those powers – and alter oour real world behaviour as a result. It suggests that whatever improvements you want to make in your business, something that increases your ability to visualise your future behaviour is well worth trying.

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