The psychological functions of avatars and alt(s): A qualitative study Academic Article uri icon


  • Prior research has shown that approximately 50% of active participants in the 3D virtual world of Second Life have one or more secondary avatars or "alts" in addition to their primary avatar. Thus, these individuals are operating a "multiple or poly-identity system" composed of a physical self, a primary avatar, and one or more alts. However, little is known about the functions these virtual identities serve for the virtual-world user. The current study involved qualitative analysis of semistructured interviews with Second Life participants (N = 24) who had a primary avatar and at least one alt. Interviews were coded to examine the functions that primary avatars and alts served. Eight functions - seven suggested by previous research on virtual world identity and one that emerged from analyses - were reflected in a large majority of the transcribed interviews and are described in the article. The current findings add to our understanding of how multifaceted identity systems operate, as more individuals augment their physical self with a set of virtual identities. 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

published proceedings

  • Computers in Human Behavior

author list (cited authors)

  • Gilbert, R., Thadani, V., Handy, C., Andrews, H., Sguigna, T., Sasso, A., & Payne, S.

citation count

  • 10

complete list of authors

  • Gilbert, Richard||Thadani, Vandana||Handy, Caitlyn||Andrews, Haley||Sguigna, Tristan||Sasso, Alex||Payne, Stephanie

publication date

  • January 2014