Having virtual super-powers in a game may incite people to better behavior in the real world, according to research published January 30 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Robin Rosenberg and colleagues from Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab.
Participants in this study were placed in a virtual environment and either given the power of flight or rode as passengers in a helicopter. They were then assigned one of two tasks: help find a missing diabetic child or tour a virtual city. The researchers explain that regardless of which task they performed, "Participants who were given the power to fly like Superman in virtual reality were more helpful afterward, out of virtual reality, compared to participants who were passengers in a helicopter in virtual reality."
The researchers suggest that embodying a superpower in virtual reality may prime players to 'think like superheroes' and thus facilitate subsequent helpful behavior in the real world. Alternately, the authors also suggest that participants who could fly in the game may have felt like more active participants than those who passively sat in the helicopter while performing tasks, and this more active involvement may have induced their subsequent behavior.