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Distorted virtual avatars
From AI-enabled photo editing apps to fully-fledged virtual avatars, our synthetic presence becomes more vivid and pronounced. Every year we step further in augmenting our physical form with virtual roles, moving beyond social network profiles and video game characters. These advancements bring us to a new realm with more modes of expression and more flexibility, yet they also pose new challenges. Our cognitive and perception systems are inherently prone to distortions leading to self-image issues such as body image disturbance. The introduction of a new reality adds another layer of perception on top of the existing ones and increases the overall complexity of the system: most of the existing virtual avatars with a physical image origin are essentially second-order derivatives of our physical form.
While there are no apparent issues with having an additional virtual persona, we can anticipate complications when alternating between them, let alone trying to integrate multiple instances. Until we transfer most of our presence to the virtual world, these conflicting avatars from fragmented realities will inevitably influence our physical agency unless they are entirely independent. When creating and employing virtual avatars, we must be mindful of these issues and carefully select design objectives. Optimising avatars towards characteristics not rooted in physical reality can lead to a distorted self-image. On the other hand, virtual personas could inform a direction for a desired change, especially when designed around neuroplastic cognitive components.