Date of Award

Summer 8-10-2018

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Interdisciplinary Program


Kristina Passman Nielson

Second Committee Member

Robert Avanzato

Third Committee Member

David Bauski

Additional Committee Members

Julie DellaMattera

Justin Wolff


Social Virtual Environments (SVEs) have been in existence for as long as we have communicated with others through the internet. Users of social virtual environments are represented by avatars, virtual representations of the users. As technology has advanced, so have the ways in which users can represent themselves online: from user-names in the beginning to three-dimensional, graphic representations used in many gaming and immersive environments so popular today. User representations in virtual environments (commonly referred to as “avatars) become a part of the user’s identity as they interact with others in the virtual environment and with the environment itself. The primary purpose of this study was to create a model of the components that comprise the avatars through an extensive review of current literature on the avatar, virtual environments, human-computer interaction (HCI) as well as theories in virtual identity, user and avatar personality, and the movement of identity between the user, the projective identity, the virtual representation, and the environment. Secondarily, this study examined, using quantitative and qualitative methods, the application of the model in examining personality traits of the user and the virtual representation (the avatar) to predict participation in social virtual activism in the virtual world of Second Life. The study took a mixed method approach through a quantitative survey of the general population of Second Life users (1,001

respondents) and a qualitative case study of a virtual social activist community (Four Bridges Project) in the social virtual world, Second Life. Findings from a review of the literature produced a comprehensive model of the avatar components that effectively describes the movement of identity and personality through the representative components. Findings from the survey and case study indicated that, while there is not a substantial difference in the percentage differences in personality traits of the activist in Second Life when compared to the general population of Second Life, the baseline personality traits of the Second Life activist tend to range higher. The case study revealed that activism in Second Life relies on a community of practitioners that encourage and support each other through shared resources and information building.