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.

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. Ratan 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 research on the effects of human-technology interaction, examining how media technologies (e.g., avatars, agents, automobiles) influence meaningful outcomes (e.g., persuasion, education, health/safety).  He is particularly interested in the Proteus effect, media-rich transportation contexts, perceptions of media as self-representations and/or social others, avatarification for health and education, and gender stereotypes in gaming contexts. 

Here are some specific examples of recent research questions (updated 10/2019): 

  • What are the true (and testable) psychological mechanisms of the Proteus effect phenomenon (i.e., that people conform behaviorally to their avatars' characteristics) and what are new/creative ways that the effect be harnessed toward meaningful outcomes (e.g., healthy food choices)? 
  • How can social interactions with transportation technologies (e.g. autonomous vehicles, escooters, etc.) be designed to influence users (e.g., trust/adoption, safer use) based on an understanding of research on digital avatars and agents?
  • To what extent do people perceive their media technologies to represent the self/social others, what technological affordances influence these perceptions, and how can these perceptions be harnessed to promote positive behaviors? 
  • How should avatar-use experiences be designed harness the Proteus effect to improve student performance and self-efficacy in educational settings?
  • How should peer-review video essay assignments be designed to facilitate media literacy and content learning in large and/or online courses? 
  • How can video game-based/gamification approaches be used to improve the applicant assessment process in hiring contexts? 
  • To what extent are gender stereotypes in the video game context responsible for gender disparity in STEM-field pursuit and how can video games/avatars be designed to combat stereotype threat? 
  • To what extent does virtual reality augment or counteract effects of adult media use on relationship satisfaction and negative attitudes about women? 

Dr. Ratan has authored over 30 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, and New Media & Society.  

Dr. Ratan loves teaching, especially large classes, where tries to make the discussion engaging and interactive for as many students as possible. He has received multiple teaching awards, including the 2017 MSU Teacher Scholar Award and 2015 MSU AT&T Instructional Technology Award, and he was also a 2014-2015 MSU Lilly Teaching Fellow. He experiments with new technologies and teaching approaches, including rapping and riding a skateboard in class to keep students' attention.  A description of his larger teaching philosophy is here

For more info, please see his CV or website.


MI101: Understanding Media (undergraduate)

MI401: Science Fiction and Technology (undergraduate)

MI960: Media & Technology (Ph.D.)

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

CAS 496: Hip-Hop, Communication & Society


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

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

Recent Publications:

Ratan, R., Beyea, D., Li, B., Graciano, L (2019). 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