Given that fursona creation involves a fantasy element, it’s worth asking what sorts of fursonas people choose to create for themselves. After all, largely unbound by the constraints of reality, it’s possible to create almost any kind of fursona one wishes. Given that psychological theories about self-esteem generally predict that people are motivated to see themselves positively, and given that fursonas are at least somewhat inspired by the self,1 we tested the hypothesis that furries generally create fursonas that represent better, idealized versions of themselves.
One way we did this was to ask furries to indicate whether their fursona would score higher or lower than they would on a number of traits—some desirable, some undesirable. The results, displayed in the figure below,2 show that furries see their fursonas as having more desirable traits than they do (indicated by higher bars for attractive, confident, energetic, and playful) and fewer undesirable traits than they do (indicated by the lower bars for shy, disorganized, predictable, unstable).
In the same study, we tested whether furries’ fursonas represented their ideal selves by asking furries explicitly whether they agreed that this was the case (see figure below).
Furries generally agreed that their fursonas represented idealized versions of themselves, even more than they believed that their fursonas represented who they actually were (the data also show that another one of a fursona’s primarily functions is to allow them to experience something novel that they would otherwise not get to experience in day-to-day life). We’re interested in the implications of this finding. Research on ideal selves suggests that people generally strive to become more like their ideal selves. As such, we believe that furries may be striving to become more like their fursonas. For example, if you are a shy person, having an outgoing, extraverted fursona may give you an opportunity to “try out” being an extraverted person within a relatively safe and supportive community. While doing this, you not only get practice being a more assertive, outgoing self, but you may begin to change the way you see yourself—no longer as a shy person because, after all, you spend time being outgoing among others.
But there’s another possibility: if one’s fursona represents an ideal version of who you are, could it actually be depressing? After all, if your fursona is ideal, but is very different from who you are, it may reinforce the fact that you are not your ideal self. The data generally support this assertion: furries who stated that their fursonas represented their ideal self, but that they were very different from their fursonas, were more frustrated with themselves, had lower self-esteem, and lower overall well-being than furries who said they were similar to their fursonas, who also happened to represent their ideal selves. We tested a similar hypothesis in another study,3 and found that the extent to which furries both identified with their fursonas and felt that their fursonas represented their ideal self, they were also more likely to have a higher self-esteem.
Taken together, the data suggest that a fursona, far from being trivial, can be deeply meaningful for furries. In particular, the combination of what their fursona represents for them and how similar they see themselves to their fursona is significantly associated with their well- being and their overall positive sense of self. This data is only correlational, so it remains for future research to determine whether discrepancies between the self and one’s fursona cause these decreases in well-being or whether they are a symptom of pre-existing low self-esteem and poor well-being. Nonetheless, this research suggests that fursonas may play an important role, whether as a mechanism supporting, or an indicator of an existing, problem (or as a mechanism contributing to, or indicator of, a healthy sense of self). And, generally speaking, the healthiest fursonas seem to be the ones that represent are a composite of who you would like to be and who you are right now.
In one study, furries were asked to rate their agreement with a number of questions asking about the extent to which their fursona represented an ideal version of themselves (e.g., “My fursona represents who/what I would like to become”). Analyses revealed that furries who tended to agree with these items also scored higher in well-being and self-esteem, on average. They were also more likely to agree that thinking about their fursona helped them through difficult times, that their fursona helped them express themselves, and even agreed that it made them feel better about who they were.4
In a more recent study, we further tested the hypothesis that fursonas serve a protective function for furries’ well-being.5 Participants completed one of several different versions of the survey, which differed slightly in the types of questions asked and the order in which the questions were asked. Most participants were asked to perform a task designed to evoke somewhat negative feelings—to think about the ways that they were not living up to their ideal selves. Analyses revealed that participants who did this task had more negative feelings afterward than participants who did not. Some participants also completed an additional task: being asked to describe their fursona before or after completing the mood-dropping question. Compared to participants who were not asked about their fursonas, furries who provided information about their fursonas experienced significantly fewer negative feelings as a result of the threat. We believe this is because fursonas allow furries the opportunity to distance themselves from their current limitations or faults, allowing them to conceptualize themselves in a more positive manner.
Building on the idea that having a fursona which represents one’s ideal self tends to be associated with better overall well-being, we tested whether there were other factors associated with the extent to which one’s fursona represented their ideal self (as opposed to representing some unlikable facet of oneself, or being unrelated at all to who you are)6
Furries who said their fursonas represented their ideal selves were less likely to show negative attitudes toward newer furries in the fandom (e.g., “New people coming into the fandom are changing it for the worse”). One possibility for this is that these furries feel secure in their attachment to the fandom and, as such, feel less need to berate or belittle incoming members of the fandom – although this remains to be seen in future research. Related to this idea, furries with idealized fursonas are also more likely to strongly identify with the fandom as a whole, though they are no more likely to identify more strongly as a furry themselves. In other words, they’re no more furry than others, but they identify more strongly with the community as a whole – which could explain why they are less likely to berate newer members of the fandom than other furries.
One measure included in the study assessed the extent to which furries tended to “offload” bad events or behaviour onto their fursonas – that is, to blame their “fursona” selves for negative things that happen to them (e.g., social awkwardness is your “fursona” side spilling out). Those who idealize their fursonas are less likely to blame their fursonas for negative events happening to them, and are more likely to take personal responsibility for such events. In a similar vein, furries whose fursonas represent their ideal selves are also more socially confident and less insecure than those whose fursonas do not represent their ideal selves.
Finally, in line with previous findings, furries whose fursonas represent their ideal selves were, once again, shown to have better psychological and social well-being – they were happier with themselves and had more satisfaction with their current relationships. In short – there is ample evidence suggesting that having a fursona whose traits represent an ideal you’re striving toward tends to be a sign of better well-being. The direction of this causation remains to be seen in future research, however, such as FurScience’s ongoing Furry Longitudinal Study.