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In the virtual footsteps of your future-self


In the virtual footsteps of your future-self

Research shows that a body perceived in virtual reality as a substitute for one’s real body, can be felt as if it is one’s own. More interestingly, the body type that is embodied can lead to perceptual, attitudinal and behavioral changes in people. This is also known as the ‘Proteus effect’ which refers to a phenomenon in which the behavior of an individual, within virtual worlds, is changed by the characteristics of their virtual character (Yee & Bailenson, 2007). This change is thought to be due to the individual's knowledge about the behaviors that are generally associated with those characteristics. One relevant example of this is a study showing that after participants embodied a virtual representation of Einstein, they perform better on a cognitive task than control participants who did not embody Einstein (Banakou et al., 2018). Another virtual reality-study has shown that when White participants experience a body ownership illusion over a Black virtual body, this leads to a reduction of their implicit racial bias against Black people (e.g., Peck et al., 2013; Maister et al., 2015). Overall, the brain’s body representation can rapidly change.

In this exciting research project, we aim to investigate what happens when participants embody a virtual representation of their ‘future’, i.e. older, self. Would this lead to a change in their attitude towards aging? And could it lead to a change in performance on cognitive tasks? For this project we will make use of virtual reality technology to study the Proteus effect among participants who virtually embody their future self.

Type of research

Experimental study with two conditions (future-self versus contemporary-self condition) among UT students. Virtual reality technology will be used.


Virtual reality, Proteus effect, future-self, virtual embodiment


Are you interested in this topic for your thesis? Please contact the bachelor thesis coordinator Jan Gutteling (


February 2019


Banakou, D., Kishore, S., & Slater, M. (2018). Virtually being Einstein results in an improvement in cognitive Task performance and a decrease in age bias. Frontiers in Psychology9, 917.

Maister, L., Slater, M., Sanchez-Vives, M. V., & Tsakiris, M. (2015). Changing bodies changes minds: owning another body affects social cognition. Trends Cogn. Sci., 19, 6–12.

Peck, T. C., Seinfeld, S., Aglioti, S. M., & Slater, M. (2013). Putting yourself in the skin of a black avatar reduces implicit racial bias. Consciousness Cogn. 22, 779–787.

Yee, N. , & Bailenson, J.N. (2007). The Proteus effect: The effect of transformed self-representation on behavior. Human Communication Research, 33, 271-290.