Take a moment to think of your most important role models. Your list might have included your parents, close friends, and teachers. But did you include yourself? Recent research suggests that digital self-models can significantly alter the way we think and behave. In one study by Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, researchers found that participants who watched an avatar of himself or herself lose weight while running on a virtual treadmill exercised more in the real world as a result. In another study, people who viewed a digitally-aged version of their own face increased their subsequent financial saving behavior.
Imagining all of the ways people can use digital self-models to learn about and design solutions for their personal obstacles is exciting. From visualizing success in the classroom, to quitting smoking, to overcoming PTSD and social phobias, self-models have great potential to positively impact behavior. But they also represent a double-edged sword: as self-models grow more common, they will undoubtedly be harnessed by advertisers and politicos to sway our opinions. Learning to overcome ourselves might be our greatest challenge.