Oh SY, Bailenson J, Krämer N, Li B (2016) Let the Avatar Brighten Your Smile: Effects of Enhancing Facial Expressions in Virtual Environments. PLoS ONE 11(9): e0161794. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0161794
Previous studies demonstrated the positive effects of smiling on interpersonal outcomes. The present research examined if enhancing one’s smile in a virtual environment could lead to a more positive communication experience. In the current study, participants’ facial expressions were tracked and mapped on a digital avatar during a real-time dyadic conversation. The avatar’s smile was rendered such that it was either a slightly enhanced version or a veridical version of the participant’s actual smile. Linguistic analyses using the Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (LIWC) revealed that participants who communicated with each other via avatars that exhibited enhanced smiles used more positive words to describe their interaction experience compared to those who communicated via avatars that displayed smiling behavior reflecting the participants’ actual smiles. In addition, self-report measures showed that participants in the 'enhanced smile' condition felt more positive affect after the conversation and experienced stronger social presence compared to the ‘normal smile’ condition. These results are particularly striking when considering the fact that most participants (>90%) were unable to detect the smiling manipulation. This is the first study to demonstrate the positive effects of transforming unacquainted individuals’ actual smiling behavior during a real-time avatar-networked conversation.