Marianne Schmid Mast at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and her colleagues took 76 subjects – most of whom were undergraduate students, and around a third of whom were women – and asked them to give a 3-minute speech to a virtual audience. The subjects then watched a virtual talk given confidently by either an avatar made to look like themselves or an avatar of the same gender that didn’t resemble them. They were then asked to give a second 3-minute speech.
Male participants who had reported before the test that they didn’t believe they were good public speakers and had watched their doppelgänger were, on average, 22 per cent more persuasive in the second speech – based on an assessment of body language by an external viewer – than those who also doubted their ability but had watched an unknown avatar.
Schmid Mast says individuals who lack confidence benefit more from seeing the confident doppelgänger, as it allows them to visualise the behaviour needed to improve their own performance.
“If you’re shy or think you can’t do it, then you actually profit from seeing yourself. It takes out the stress. You already see yourself using the hand gestures which usually you don’t use, so you see it doesn’t look completely ridiculous, and that can encourage you to actually show it,” she says.
There was no observable effect on women in any of the tests. Schmid Mast believes this is down to women being generally more expressive with their bodies and faces than men, and therefore benefiting less from the cues in the virtual speech. The team plans to further observe this gender gap in future research.
The technique could be used to create training tools for those who dislike speaking in public.
Journal reference: PLoS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0245960
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