Personality, behavioral, and social heterogeneity within the cosplay community

Robin S. Rosenberg

University of California, San Francisco, California, United States

Andrea M. Letamendi

University of California, Los Angeles, California, United States

[0.1] Abstract—In an exploratory study that surveyed 929 demographically diverse self-identified adult cosplayers about extraversion and behavioral and social aspects of cosplay, respondents completed a thirty-four-item self-report questionnaire regarding demographic information, cosplay behavior, and the ten extraversion items from the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire-Revised Short Form (EPQR-S). Cosplayers are within a normative range of extraversion; respondents who are relatively more introverted differ in some of their cosplay behaviors and experiences from those who are more extraverted.

[0.2] Keywords—Extraversion; Identity; Involvement with media characters

Rosenberg, Robin S., and Andrea M. Letamendi. 2018. "Personality, Behavioral, and Social Heterogeneity within the Cosplay Community." In "The Future of Fandom," special 10th anniversary issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 28.

1. Introduction

[1.1] One increasingly popular form of expression is cosplay, short for costume play, which is the modern practice of wearing garments, accessories, and makeup to represent a character from a particular genre, typically including science fiction, anime or manga, television/film, and comic books. In addition to costume wear, cosplay may include the design, construction, fabrication, and other skills involved in the creation of the costume. We define cosplay as a visible expression of fandom that is accompanied by a psychological transformation related to personality, power, abilities, gender, and/or sexuality. Mental health clinicians may have negative—or positive—assumptions about the motivation, meaning, and goals of cosplay for people who partake in this leisure activity.

[1.2] Psychological aspects of cosplay were first studied by Rosenberg and Letamendi (2013) in an effort to understand the motivations and experiences of cosplayers. In that study, 198 self-identified cosplayers were surveyed online to explore cosplay-related behavior, practice, and preferences. The study found that the majority of cosplayers in the sample cosplayed between one and five times per year, spent between $100 and $400 per costume and spent an average of forty-four hours constructing a single costume. The most commonly cited reasons cosplayers engaged in costume wear included "fun," the wearer "liked the character," and because it is "a vehicle for creative expression." Findings also revealed that cosplay is a social practice, with an overwhelming majority (93 percent) coordinating their costumes with others. In sum, that study found that cosplay represents a significant commitment in time and a nontrivial outlay of money, and that cosplayers enjoyed the elements of both social engagement and self-expression.

[1.3] In order to learn more about cosplayers, the aim of the current study was to obtain a large enough sample to assess trends in cosplayers' social relationships, identity issues related to cosplay, and degree of extraversion. Extraversion/introversion is a well-established personality supertrait that explains fundamental individual differences in personality and is correlated with other traits, such as extraversion reflects high prevalence of sensation seeking, sociability, liveliness, assertiveness, and dominance (Eysenck and Eysenck 1975).

[1.4] At first blush, cosplayers might be assumed to have have personality characteristics of venturesomeness, sensation-seeking, and sociability. However, during in-person interviews with cosplayers, many cosplayers report that they are shy when out of costume, and that engaging in cosplay allows them to be more outgoing than their usual selves. Thus, we had two competing hypotheses about the degree of extraversion among cosplayers in our sample: first, men and women who cosplay would be more extraverted compared to a normative sample for each gender (i.e., score higher on that scale). Support for this hypothesis is found in David Nettle's 2006 study of personality and cognitive styles of 191 professional actors. He found that actors of both genders were more likely than comparison groups to score higher in extraversion. Alternatively, men and women who cosplay would be less extraverted than a normative sample for each gender (i.e., score lower and be more introverted) and only "act extraverted" during cosplay. Support for this hypothesis comes from research that revealed that trait introverts who acted like extraverts for periods of time found the experience to be pleasant and it increased positive affect (Fleeson, Malanos, and Achille 2002; Zelenski, Santoro, and Whelan 2012; Zelenski et al. 2013). We predicted that there would be no gender difference in the extraversion scores of cosplayers relative to men and women in the general population.

[1.5] We predicted that cosplayer level of extraversion would also be associated with various preferences and experiences related to cosplay. Specifically, we predicted that more extraverted cosplayers would report preferring to cosplay with others (making it a more social experience). Similarly, we predicted that less extraverted cosplayers would report both feeling less comfortable being in the spotlight when not in costume, and be more likely to prefer wearing a costume with a face-covering mask (making them less identifiable and more hidden), compared to more extraverted cosplayers.

[1.6] We did not have specific hypotheses about why cosplayers choose to engage in cosplay or chose their cosplay characters. We asked questions to understand respondents' motives for such choices.

2. Methods

[2.1] A total of 966 participants responded to the electronic survey between January 22 and May 28, 2013. Thirty-seven participants were removed from the sample because they reported that they were less than eighteen years of age. The final sample comprised 929 participants of whom 687 self-identified as female. Participant age range was from eighteen to seventy-four years.

[2.2] For the cosplay questionnaire, a thirty-four-item self-report survey pertaining to demographic information, and cosplay behavior were derived from the previous study on cosplay (Rosenberg and Letamendi 2013). Additional items were added to explore personality, identity, and gender characteristics.

[2.3] Particularly of interest to us were the extraversion items from the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire–Revised Short Form (EPQR-S). The full EPQR-S (Eysenck and Eysenck 1991) was developed to measure three traits considered central to personality and includes an Extraversion, Neuroticism, Psychoticism, and Lie scale. Each subscale of the EPQR-S has good internal consistency and test–retest reliability (Eysenck and Eysenck 1991). Our survey included only the ten questions related to extraversion (e.g., "Do you enjoy meeting new people?") and two questions related to introversion (e.g., "Are you mostly quiet when you are with other people?"). The response format for all items is dichotomous (yes or no). Introversion items are reversed-scored.

[2.4] The survey was administered via Google Docs. The link to the web-based survey was distributed via social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blogs) as well as in-person via QR (Quick Response) coded flyers at comic and anime conventions that cosplayers frequent (i.e., WonderCon, PAX East, Katsucon, and Edo Pop). Participation was both anonymous and voluntary (no IRB approval necessary). No compensation or benefit was offered to participants who elected to participate.

3. Results

[3.1] The majority of the sample self-identified as female (74 percent; n = 687) and white (82.3 percent; n = 765). They ranged in age from 18 to 74 years, with a mean of 29.7 years, and were generally well educated; most of the sample had at least a two-year college level education (77.4 percent; n = 719). Table 1 provides detailed information about ethnicity, age, and education level.

Table 1. Sample Demographics

Asian/Pacific Islander384.1
Black or African American80.9
Latino or Hispanic454.8
Native American90.9
18–30 years62567.3
31–40 years19020.5
41–50 years758.1
51–60 years283.0
61–70 years91.0
71–75 years20.2
Elementary school10.1
High school16317.5
Vocational training465.0
Two-year college15516.7
Four-year college/university40944.0
Graduate/professional school15516.7

[3.2] Scores on the EPQR-S (extraversion scale) ranged from 0 to 12 with a sample mean of 6.6 (SD = 3.74). To see whether our sample was consistent with the general population, we compared the mean of our sample against a normative mean (Eysenck and Eysenck, 1991) by performing one-sample z-tests. We found that the women in our sample were significantly less extraverted than women in the general population (6.5 vs. 7.6; z = -10.25; p <.0001, 95 percent CI [7.81,7.39]), and that men in our sample were significantly more extraverted than men in the general population (6.9 vs. 6.36; z = 4.33; p <.0001, 95 percent CI [6.60,6.12]). Note that in the general population, women are more extraverted (7.6) than men (6.3). There was no significant difference between the females and males in our sample on the extraversion scale (women: 6.5; men: 6.9; F [1,927] = 1.99; p = .16).

[3.3] Cosplayers who prefer to cosplay alone more frequently rather than with others were more likely to endorse lower levels of extraversion (F [4, 924] = 4.08; p = .003). Despite this relationship, even for the subgroup of participants who always preferred to cosplay alone, their average level of extraversion was within normal range (m = 6.38).

[3.4] There was an inverse relationship between extraversion and feeling uncomfortable in the spotlight such that participants who expressed discomfort being in the spotlight (when not in costume) scored lower on extraversion (F [4, 924] = 87.64; p <.001). Similarly, the lower the cosplayer's extraversion score, the higher the preference to wear a mask that covers one's face (F [1, 927] = 11.05; p = .001).

[3.5] When asked to identify the primary reason they cosplayed, about a third of participants—the largest percentage—endorsed that it was "fun" (33.5 percent; n = 311) (table 2). Another common reason was that cosplay offers "a vehicle for creative or artistic expression" (25.2 percent; n = 234). Other responses ranged from reporting that cosplay is "a way to honor a character I like (but don't necessarily identify with)" (8.2 percent; n = 76) and wanting to "identify" with a particular character (8.2 percent; n = 76). Only 3.4 percent experienced cosplay as "a form of escape" (n = 32) and 3 percent felt that cosplay is "an opportunity to be a 'celebrity' for a brief time" (n = 28).

Table 2. Reasons for Cosplaying

A vehicle for creative/artistic expression23425.2
A way to honor a character I like (but don't necessarily identify with)768.2
The identification with the character768.2
An opportunity to exhibit my creation or myself748.0
The acceptance by and friendship with like-minded people576.1
The opportunity to pretend to be someone else414.4
A form of escape323.4
The opportunity to be a "celebrity" for a brief time283.0

[3.6] Participants were also asked to respond—through multiple-choice options—why they chose the character(s) they preferred to cosplay (table 3). A majority responded that they chose characters based on "some aspect of the character's personality" (59.3 percent; n = 551). The second most common reason to select a character was "how I look in the costume" (15.7 percent; n = 146); "aspects of the character's history" was the third most common reason (13 percent; n = 121); and aspects of the character's physical appearance was the fourth most common reason (11.9 percent; n = 111). Thus, over 72 percent of participants related to internal aspects of a character (personality, history) versus their external aspects (costume, physical appearance).

Table 3. Reasons for Character Choice

Aspect of the character's personality55159.3
How I look in the costume14615.7
Aspects of the character's history12113
Aspects of the character's physical appearance11111.9

4. Conclusions

[4.1] In an effort to understand more deeply the psychology of cosplay and to move past the superficial aspects of costume-wear, we surveyed demographic, social, and internal aspects of the cosplay community. This study found that demographically, cosplayers represent a diverse community. As a whole, cosplayers are not exceedingly introverted or extraverted compared to normative samples, though compared to a normative sample, female cosplayers were significantly less extraverted and male cosplayers were more extraverted.

[4.2] Regarding extraversion, our two alternate hypotheses were both correct: each was true for only one gender. Female cosplayers were less extraverted than women in the general population and male cosplayers were more extraverted than men in the general population. One possible explanation for this result is that women, at least in many Western societies, may be perceived as more flexible, fluid, and less restricted with regard to their physical adornment such as makeup, accessories, and fashion in general. Furthermore, the social expectation to be on display is consistent with the view that women are acculturated to internalize an observer's perspective as a primary view of their physical selves (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997). Thus, among less extraverted cosplayers, the emotional cost of cosplaying is lessened among women, given that cosplay can be seen as an extension of fashion and objectification. In contrast, wearing a costume (that might include nontraditional adornments or practices inconsistent with stereotypical gender roles such as makeup or headwear) may necessitate a higher level of extraversion among males who cosplay. Despite the gender difference found, it should be emphasized that both female and male participants fell within the normative range of extraversion/introversion continuum, e.g., neither extremely introverted nor extremely extraverted. Moreover, there was no statistical gender difference in extraversion in our sample. Most cosplayers in the sample preferred to cosplay with others than alone, and as predicted, those who scored higher on the extraversion scale were more likely to cosplay with others.

[4.3] Participants in our study endorsed having a favorite character to cosplay, with the most popular characters drawn from television/film, anime/manga, and video games. The majority of participants related to internal aspects of a cosplay character (personality, history) versus their external aspects (costume, physical appearance) and cosplay in general was more likely endorsed as a source of fun and a vehicle for the art and craft of costuming. These aspects reveal a fundamental dynamic of cosplay related to an internal, psychological, self-expressive experience above and beyond an external transformation. One can consider, for instance, observed shifts in psychological states associated with this internal transformation, such as empowerment, pride, acceptance, bravery, uniqueness, heroism, and power, depending on the character(s) chosen.

[4.4] This study has several limitations. The data were collected through a self-report, Internet-based survey, and the respondents were self-selected through snowball sampling. The survey items were worded with the assumption that respondents' interest in cosplay was current; it might be interesting to sample individuals who had previously had an interest in cosplay but no longer did so at the time the data was collected. The next advancement in this area would be a deeper exploration of the cosplay psychological transformation, such as the similarities or resonance between the cosplayer and his or her character choice. Finally, we were not able to reach significant subsamples of cosplayers from diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds. It is recommended that future studies improve our methodological approach in order to be more inclusive to diverse and multicultural samples.

5. References

Eysenck, Hans J., and Sybil B. G. Eysenck. 1975. Manual of the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (Junior and Adult). London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Eysenck, Hans J., and Sybil Eysenck. 1991. Manual of the Eysenck Personality Scales. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Fleeson, William, Adriane B. Malanos, and Noelle M. Achille. 2002. "An Intraindividual Process Approach to the Relationship Between Extraversion and Positive Affect: Is Acting Extraverted as 'Good' as Being Extraverted?" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 83 (6): 1409–22.

Fredrickson, B. L., and T. A. Roberts.1997. "Objectification Theory: Toward Understanding Women's Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks." Psychology of Women Quarterly 21: 173–206.

Nettle, Daniel. 2006. "Psychological Profiles of Professional Actors." Personality and Individual Differences 40 (2): 375–83.

Rosenberg, Robin S., and Andrea M. Letamendi. 2013. "Expressions of Fandom: Findings from a Psychological Survey of Cosplay and Costume Wear." Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media 5: 9–18.

Zelenski, John M., Maya S. Santoro, and Deanna C. Whelan. 2012. "Would Introverts Be Better Off if They Acted More Like Extraverts? Exploring Emotional and Cognitive Consequences of Counterdispositional Behavior." Emotion12 (2): 290–303.

Zelenski, John M., Deanna C. Whelan, Logan J. Nealis, Christina M. Besner, Maya S. Santoro, and Jessica E. Wynn. 2013. "Personality and Affective Forecasting: Trait Introverts Underpredict the Hedonic Benefits of Acting Extraverted." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology104 (6): 1092–108.