Rabindra Ratan Ph.D.

Rabindra Ratan

Associate Professor, AT&T Scholar

  • Media & Information
(517) 355-3490


Rabindra (Robby) Ratan 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 Center for Gender in a Global Context, the MSU Department of Psychology, and the MSU College of Education’s program in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology. 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.

Generally, Dr. Ratan conducts research within the field of media psychology, examining how interactive media environments (e.g., video games) and factors within them (e.g., avatars) influence meaningful outcomes (e.g., education, health).  

More specifically, Dr. Ratan studies the psychological experience and effects of interactive mediated environments, broadly defined (e.g., virtual worlds, online courses, the road). He is particularly interested in how avatars -- also broadly defined (e.g., game characters, automobiles) -- influence the psychological experience of media use, and how different facets of this psychological experience (e.g., embodiment, identification) affect a variety of outcomes, including education behaviors (e.g., classroom performance), health-related behaviors (e.g., food choice), and prejudicial/prosocial attitudes (e.g., gender/race bias). His work also emphasizes the social implications of media use with respect to gender and race-related disparities in meaningful contexts (e.g., STEM fields).

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


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 
Ed Psychology and Ed Technology Program
College of Education, MSU

Affiliate Faculty
Department of Psychology
College of Social Sciences, MSU

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

Research and Teaching

Avatars, Proteus Effect, Games and Gender, Virtual Reality, Self-Presence, AVACARS (automotive vehicles as communicating avatar-robot systems), Education and Health Outcomes, Media Effects on Gender and Racial Equity. 

Recent Publications:

Selected Publications:

Leveling up on stereotype threat: The role of avatar customization and avatar embodiment
Rabindra Ratan, Young June Sah

This paper examines how avatar gender in a game influences subsequent math performance. Women participants who customized a male avatar did better on a math task than those who customized a female avatar. Further, this effect was stronger for people who had felt less embodied in their avatars during the game. These findings are consistent with the large body of research on stereotype threat which suggests that people conform to negative stereotypes about themselves when they are reminded of such stereotypes. This research also offer new insights into the role that avatars may play in such effects, which has implications for the design of learning games and virtual environments. Namely, such media should be designed carefully, with the potential effects of avatar gender in mind so that they do not unintentionally promote gender inequality in educational contexts.

When Mii Is Me: A Psychophysiological Examination of Avatar Self-Relevance
Rabindra Ratan, Michael Dawson

This paper examines the theoretical mechanisms of avatar use effects. Previous research on the Proteus effect phenomenon suggests that the way an avatar appears affects how the avatar user behaves, even after avatar use. This study examines how such effects are influenced by elements of the avatar user’s psychological connection to the avatar. After participants played a sword-fighting video game and completed a survey about their psychological connections to the avatar, they were asked to set up the game and watch their avatar get beaten up. Participants who had reported a stronger emotional connection to the avatar during use exhibited stronger physiological responses while watching it get beaten up. Conversely, participants who felt a strong amount of embodiment in the avatar during use exhibited less negative physiological responses while watching it get beaten up. This somewhat counter-intuitive finding suggests when people feel embodied in an avatar during use, they are more likely to feel disconnected from it after use. This research has implications for the design of digital games and virtual environments that include avatars and intend to impact users in meaningful ways.

Rabindra, R. & Tsai, H. S. (2014). Dude, where’s my Avacar? A mixed-method examination of communication in the driving context. Pervasive and Mobile Computing. doi: 10.1016/j.pmcj.2014.05.011

Ratan, R., & Hasler, B., (2014). Playing well with virtual classmates: Relating avatar design to collaboration satisfaction. Proceedings of the 17th ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work & social computing. doi: 10.1145/2531602.2531732.

Kahn, A., Ratan, R., & Williams, D. (2014). Why We Distort in Self-Report: The Effects Cognitive Dissonance and Balance Theory on Self-Report Errors. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 19(4), 1010-1023. doi: 10.1111/jcc4.12056

Lehdonvirta, V., Ratan, R., Kennedy, T.L.M., Williams, D. (2014). Pink and Blue Pixel$: Gender and Economic Disparity in Two Massive Online Games. The Information Society, 30(4), 243-255. doi:10.1080/01972243.2014.915277.

Ratan, R.A. & Sah, Y.J. (2014). The Spawn of Presence: Examining the Relationship between Presence and Self-Presence. Proceedings of the 15th Annual International Workshop on Presence. Vienna, Austria.

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