Rabindra Ratan Ph.D.

Rabindra Ratan

Associate Professor, AT&T Scholar

  • Media & Information
(517) 355-3490



Rabindra (Robby) Ratan (CV) is an Associate Professor and AT&T Scholar at Michigan State University’s Department of Media and Information as well as Director of the Social and Psychological Approaches to Research on Technology-Interaction Effects (SPARTIE) Lab. He is also an affiliated faculty member of the MSU Department of Psychology, the MSU College of Education’s program in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology, and the MSU Center for Gender in a Global Context. He received his Ph.D. from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, his M.A. in Communication from Stanford University, and his B.A. in Science, Technology and Society, also from Stanford University.

Dr. Ratan conducts social and psychological research on the effects of human-technology interaction, focusing on how media technologies (e.g., avatars, video games, agents/AI, VR) influence meaningful outcomes (e.g., equity, well-being, motivation) across societal contexts (e.g., education, health, industry). He is particularly interested in the Proteus effect (i.e., avatar characteristics influencing user behaviors), human-AI interaction, virtual meetings, the metaverse, and gender stereotyping in gaming. 

Examples of current and recent research questions include: 

  1. What are the best practices for teaching and meeting in virtual reality? 
  2. In what ways can avatars and virtual worlds be harnessed to improve performance and motivation in education, health, and industry? 
  3. How can virtual meeting platforms better support well-being and social equity? 
  4. How can interactions with AI (e.g., in transportation technologies) be designed to promote meaningful outcomes (e.g., environmentally sound behaviors)? 
  5. To what extent are gender stereotypes in the video game context responsible for gender disparity in STEM fields and how can video games/avatars better combat stereotype threat?

Dr. Ratan has authored over 60 peer-reviewed articles in publication venues such as Media Psychology, the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Communication Research, Computers in Human Behavior, Games and Culture, New Media & Society, Computers & Education, the International Journal of Communication, and SIGCHI. He has received grant funding from the National Science Foundation, the Superior Health Foundation, non-profit organizations, and technology companies, such as Spin Mobility (Ford Motor Company) and Techsmith, Inc. 

Dr. Ratan regularly teaches his classes in virtual reality—students who do not own a VR headset borrow one for the semester from Dr. Ratan’s lab—and his students resoundingly prefer this method over traditional online teaching platforms. He has received multiple teaching awards, including the 2017 MSU Teacher-Scholar Award and the 2015 & 2023 MSU AT&T Instructional Technology Award, he was a 2014-2015 MSU Lilly Teaching Fellow, and he adopts an inclusive and non-traditional approach to teaching (e.g., academic raps, skateboard in class, teaching philosophy). He has held leadership roles in his field (e.g., the International Communication Association), helped organize global conferences (e.g., Meaningful Play), and served as peer-reviewer for over 50 academic journals and proceedings. His lab outreach/production team, SpartieCast, produces a podcast and short-form edutainment videos explaining the lab’s research. Dr. Ratan has also written opinion pieces for Wired Magazine and TheConversation.com, and has been interviewed as an expert on media technologies in news outlets such as National Public Radio, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, and the Washington Post.

For more info, please see his CV or Google Scholar pages.


MI101: Understanding Media (undergraduate)

MI299: Understanding Virtual Reality Experiences (undergraduate) -- Taught in Virtual Reality

MI401: Avatar Psychology (undergraduate) -- Taught in Virtual Reality

MI401: Understanding Future Media: Reflections in the Black Mirror (undergraduate)

MI960: Media & Technology (Ph.D.)

UGS200H: Video Game Impacts: Play with Meaning (honors undergraduate)

CAS 496: Hip-Hop, Communication & Society (undergraduate)


Associate Professor and AT&T Scholar
Dept. of Media & Information
College of Communication Arts & Sciences
Michigan State University

Social and Psychological Approaches to Research on Technology-Interaction Effects (SPARTIE) Lab.

Affiliate Faculty
Department of Psychology
College of Social Sciences, MSU

Affiliate Faculty 
Ed Psychology and Ed Technology Program
College of Education, MSU

Core Faculty
Center for Gender in Global Context
International Studies & Programs, MSU

Research and Teaching

Proteus Effect (theory, application, expansion), Avatars, Agents, Media use in transportation technology (e.g,. autonomous vehicles, escooters), Virtual Reality, Video Games, Education Technology, Stereotype Threat, Media Effects, Education and Health Outcomes

Thematic Research Areas
Research Centers and Labs
Selected Publications:

Ratan, R., Shen, C., Williams, D., (2020). Men Do Not Rule the World of Tanks: Negating the Gender-Performance Gap in a Spatial-Action Game by Controlling for Time Played. American Behavioral Scientist 64(7), 1031 - 1043.  

The present research addresses the stereotype that women and girls lack the ability to succeed compared to men and boys in video games. Previous lab-based research has found that playing spatial-action video games potentially reduces the gender gap in spatial-thinking skills, while previous field studies of less spatially oriented online games have found that the perceived gender-performance gap actually results from the amount of previous gameplay time, which is confounded with gender. Extending both lines of research, the present field study examines player performance in a spatial-action game, the vehicle-based shooter World of Tanks. Results from 3,280 players suggest that women appear to accrue fewer experience points per match than men, signaling lower performance ability, but that when the amount of previous gameplay time is statistically controlled, this gender difference is negated. These results lend support to the claim that playing video games—even spatial-action games—diminishes the gender-performance gap, which is potentially useful for promoting gender equity in STEM fields.

Fordham, J., Ratan, R., Huang, K.T., Zhou, W., & Silva., K., (2020). Is Gender Disparity in STEM Fields Related to Gender Stereotypes in Videogames? An Experimental Examination of Stereotype Threat Context Transfer. American Behavioral Scientist.

The connection between video games and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields has become a key focus for education and game scholars alike. While games may have the power to bring more students toward STEM fields, gender stereotypes about gaming ability may hinder this potential. To examine this issue, two studies were conducted to investigate whether stereotype threat induced in a gaming context would affect players’ game performance and their perceptions of STEM fields. The first study found that priming gender stereotypes influenced female participants’
video game performance as well as interest in and perceptions of STEM fields. A second study investigated this relationship through the use of both overtly gendered and nongendered forms of stereotype threat as well as avatar-induced identity salience. Interaction effects found between implicit/explicit stereotype threat and identity salience suggest a relationship between forms of stereotype threat and active self-concept.

Ratan, R., Beyea, D., Li, B., Graciano, L (2020). Avatar Characteristics Induce Users’ Behavioral Conformity with Small-to-Medium Effect Sizes: A Meta-Analysis of the Proteus Effect. Media Psychology. 

Over a decade of research on the Proteus effect in numerous contexts suggests that people conform in behavior and attitudes to their avatars’ characteristics. In order to provide clarity about the reliability and size of the Proteus effect, a meta-analysis was conducted with 46 quantitative experimental studies in which avatars with specific characteristics were randomly assigned to participants. Results indicate a relatively consistent effect size (between .22 and .26, depending on subset of studies examined) and nearly all variance explained. Unexplained variance differed between studies that used behavioral or attitudinal measures, while studies which examined potential moderators explained all variance. Overall, this research suggests that the Proteus effect is a reliable phenomenon, with a small-but-approaching-medium effect size according to a traditional rule of thumb, but is relatively large compared to other digital media effects examined in previous meta analyses.

Ratan, R. (2019). When Automobiles Are Avacars: A Self-Other-Utility Approach to Cars and Avatars. International Journal of Communication, 13. 

This article argues that automobiles can be understood as avatars, or avacars, given the inclusive definition of avatars as mediated (not necessarily digital) representations of human users that facilitate interaction with other users, entities, or environments. Building on an understanding of user-avatar relationships, the article argues that automobiles (and avatars in general) serve as self-representations, social others, and/or utilitarian tools in different degrees. Examples of automotive and digital avatars are classified within this Self-Other Utility (SOU) framework. The article argues that this framework provides a new and valuable approach to understanding the antecedents and consequences of using avatars. Regarding consequences, in the automotive context, the SOU framework could be used to explain how psychological and social factors influence driving habits (i.e., safety), adoption (e.g., of autonomous vehicles), and brand loyalty. A measurement scale to facilitate such research is offered. After presenting some potential limitations to this approach, the article concludes with counterarguments that reaffirm the value and relevance of this new perspective to communication scholarship.

Ratan, R., Fordham, J. Leith, A. & Williams, D. (2019). Women Keep it Real: Avatar Gender Choice in League of Legends. CyberPsychology and Behavior.

This paper examines avatar gender choice within a competitive avatar use context in which avatar gender is not equivalent across avatar functions. In data from the game League of Legends (N = 15,392) reflecting over 5 million avatar gender choices, women were found to have stronger preferences for avatar gender consistency than men. Further, women tended to choose female avatars at twice the available rate offered by the game, while men chose male avatars at a rate approximately the same as the proportion offered. These findings support the argument that women experience more pressure than men do to perform their gender identities overtly, even in competitive games where avatar choice is mostly functional and avatar gender is fixed within specific characters. A practical implication is that by offering a wider range of female avatar and character options, game designers could likely attract greater female audiences without
significant loss of male players.

Recent Awards:

MSU Teacher Scholar award, 2017, awarded annually to six members of the tenure system faculty for their devotion to and skill in teaching.  http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2017/2017-teacher-scholar-awards/

MSU AT&T Award for Best Blended Course, 2015. TC401-731: Science Fiction, Communication & Technology. http://attawards.msu.edu/winners/2015/tc-401-731

MSU Lilly Teaching Fellow, 2014-2015. Fellowship recognizing teaching excellence and providing support for research on the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Contact Information

404 Wilson Rd.
Communication Arts and Sciences Building
Michigan State University