Goffman states the “expressiveness of the individual appears to involve two radically different kinds of sign activity: the expression that he gives, and the expression that he gives off.” In the virtual world, there is only one sign activity: the expression that he gives. There are no visual cues of nonverbal communication that others can see or interpret in online worlds like Second Life. There are no things like interpersonal distance (Yee and Bailensen, pg. 6), because you aren’t exactly experiencing it yourself. People online technically show no fear because there are no nonverbal cues to worry about. Everyone online chooses what to express to others, and because of that most online users have a high confidence level. There is always a choice in the virtual world, something that may not always be in the real world.
This is tied to appearance because online you choose the best representation of yourself. It is a world where no one knows who your real self looks like, or your true personality. Yee and Bailensen stated that the online avatar is “not simply a uniform that is worn, the avatar is our entire self-representation.” You want to represent yourself in the best way possible to others online because appearance decides the first impression of a person. Because there are no nonverbal cues, appearance is that much more important online than in person. While some people will make avatars into a more realistic self-representation of themselves, others will change their appearance tenfold.
In Yee and Bailensen, it is stated that “participants who had more attractive avatars exhibited increased self-disclosure and were more willing to approach opposite-gendered strangers after less than 1 minute of exposure to their altered avatar.” If you look good, you feel good, and there is no better example of that than in online settings. Appearance attracts attention, and appearance attracts confidence. I know when I am wearing a suit my confidence level is different than when I am wearing sweatpants and a shirt.
In terms of Second Life, I believe appearance influences virtual interaction in a very heavy way. For example, I chose not to represent myself in a true avatar, but instead chose to create a panda avatar. Other people in Second Life may not know how to interact with me because I did not conform like them and instead chose to go outside the box.
The set of studies done in the Proteus Effect makes clear that self-representations have a significant and instantaneous impact on our behavior (Yee and Bailensen, p. 17). The only visual cue online is appearance, and if you don’t look good, you may not necessarily feel good.