Older adults are increasingly interacting with other people online via virtual avatars, yet little is known about how avatars affect older adults' behavior. This study examines how interacting avatars' age affects older adult's self-disclosure and trust in a relation-building context. Previous studies have found that users can take on behaviors consistent with characteristics of the avatars. In social interactions, people also assess their avatar in relation to other avatars for similarity or differences. We conducted a 2 (self-avatar: old vs. young) × 2 (other's avatar: old vs. young) experiment with older-adult participants aged 60+ (n = 95). The findings show that using younger avatars did not increase self-disclosure. However, the older-adult participants disclosed more information when their avatar's age matched their partner avatar's age (i.e., old to old, young to young). They also trust their partners more when the interacting avatars shared similar age. This study provides theoretical insights into the role of avatars in online relationship-building and extends our understanding of the avatar effects on older adults.
Keywords: avatars; older adults; self-disclosure; similarity; uncertainty reduction.