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Virtual Gender Differences, What Would Batman Eat?

by Stephen K. Ritter
January 21, 2013 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 91, ISSUE 3


Credit: © 2007 Linden Research
Second Life: Avatars discuss proteins.
Credit: © 2007 Linden Research
Second Life: Avatars discuss proteins.

Department Of Obscure Information

Blue eyes in humans were unknown until about 10,000 years ago, when a genetic mutation occurred in the Black Sea region.

The U.S. Interagency Alternative Dispute Resolution Working Group, led by the attorney general, focuses on ways to keep disputes out of a courtroom.

This just in: Women in the online world of Second Life expose more skin and come closer to being virtually naked than men do, independent of their virtual body shapes and sizes or perceived attractiveness. So say Anna M. Lomanowska and Matthieu J. Guitton of Laval University, in Quebec, in a research paper in PLoS One (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051921).

For the bewildered, Second Life is a virtual world launched in 2003 in which users called residents interact through avatars—self-selected cartoonish incarnations of people. Residents can socialize and have relationships, create and trade virtual property and services, participate in individual and group activities, and so forth. It’s effectively a computer game with no preconceived objectives or rules.

Chemists and other scientists used Second Life for a few years for educational purposes, such as visualizing molecules, creating business models, and holding virtual meetings. But scientific interest has waned, and the chemistry-related content is now defunct. Perhaps Second Life was becoming too risqué, given that residents can choose to live with any amount of uninhibited abandon they like.

Lomanowska and Guitton, neurobiologists who study social behavior in people and animals, observed 400 randomly selected Second Life residents and found that 70% of male avatars cover at least 75% of their skin, whereas only 5% of female avatars do. In contrast, about half of the virtual females cover as little as 25 to 50% of their skin, compared with 9% of the males.

“These findings have implications for further understanding how sex-specific aspects of skin disclosure influence human social interactions in both virtual and real settings,” the researchers suggest.

Batman’s choice: Fries or apples?
Batman’s choice: Fries or apples?

What would Batman be more likely to choose at a fast-food joint, french fries or apple slices? That’s a question food psychologists posed in a study reported in the journal Pediatric Obesity on how to help children opt for healthier fast-food choices (DOI: 10.1111/j.2047-6310.2011.00003.x). The fast answer is that 45% of the surveyed children believe the caped crusader would choose the healthier option. That number doesn’t sound very reassuring, but read on.

Researchers led by marketing professor Brian Wansink of Cornell University offered children a choice of french fries or apple slices before a meal. Only 9% of the children selected apples. In a subsequent week, the children were shown photos of six admirable models such as Batman and six less admirable models such as the Penguin. After being asked whether the admirable model would more likely order french fries or apple slices, 45% of the children selected apples. Calorie count: french fries 227, apples 34.

The researchers conclude that advising parents to prime their child by asking what Batman or another admirable character might eat could be an easy step to take for living in a healthier fast-food world.

Steve Ritter wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to



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