Robin S. Rosenberg, Shawnee L. Baughman, Jeremy N. Bailenson

Recent studies have shown that playing prosocial video games leads to greater subsequent prosocial behavior in the real world. However, immersive virtual reality allows people to occupy avatars that are different from them in a perceptually realistic manner. We examine how occupying an avatar with the superhero ability to fly increases helping behavior.
Using a two-by-two design, participants were either given the power of flight (their arm movements were tracked to control their flight akin to Superman’s flying ability) or rode as a passenger in a helicopter, and were assigned one of two tasks, either to help find a missing diabetic child in need of insulin or to tour a virtual city. Participants in the “super-flight” conditions helped the experimenter pick up spilled pens after their virtual experience significantly more than those who were virtual passengers in a helicopter.
The results indicate that having the “superpower” of flight leads to greater helping behavior in the real world, regardless of how participants used that power. A possible mechanism for this result is that having the power of flight primed concepts and prototypes associated with superheroes (e.g., Superman). This research illustrates the potential of using experiences in virtual reality technology to increase prosocial behavior in the physical world.

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2 Responses to Robin S. Rosenberg, Shawnee L. Baughman, Jeremy N. Bailenson

  1. shinichi says:

    Virtual Superheroes: Using Superpowers in Virtual Reality to Encourage Prosocial Behavior

    by Robin S. Rosenberg, Shawnee L. Baughman, Jeremy N. Bailenson

    PLoS ONE

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0055003

    Abstract

    Background

    Recent studies have shown that playing prosocial video games leads to greater subsequent prosocial behavior in the real world. However, immersive virtual reality allows people to occupy avatars that are different from them in a perceptually realistic manner. We examine how occupying an avatar with the superhero ability to fly increases helping behavior.

    Principal Findings

    Using a two-by-two design, participants were either given the power of flight (their arm movements were tracked to control their flight akin to Superman’s flying ability) or rode as a passenger in a helicopter, and were assigned one of two tasks, either to help find a missing diabetic child in need of insulin or to tour a virtual city. Participants in the “super-flight” conditions helped the experimenter pick up spilled pens after their virtual experience significantly more than those who were virtual passengers in a helicopter.

    Conclusion

    The results indicate that having the “superpower” of flight leads to greater helping behavior in the real world, regardless of how participants used that power. A possible mechanism for this result is that having the power of flight primed concepts and prototypes associated with superheroes (e.g., Superman). This research illustrates the potential of using experiences in virtual reality technology to increase prosocial behavior in the physical world.

    Citation: Rosenberg RS, Baughman SL, Bailenson JN (2013) Virtual Superheroes: Using Superpowers in Virtual Reality to Encourage Prosocial Behavior. PLoS ONE 8(1): e55003. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055003

    Editor: Attila Szolnoki, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungary

  2. shinichi says:

    The Superheroes

    Inside the mind of Batman and other larger-than-life heroes.

    by Robin S. Rosenberg

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-superheroes/201301/superheroes-the-rescue-real

    Superheroes to The Rescue—For Real

    Flying in virtual reality leads to prosocial behavior.

    Flying like Superman in virtual reality can make you more helpful in real life. That’s what my colleagues and I found in a recent study. At Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, Shawnee Baugman, Jeremy Bailenson, and I had participants enter a virtual environment and they were 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. Regardless of which task they performed, people who had the power of flight were significantly more likely to help a researcher pick up spilled pens in real life than the helicopter passengers were.

    Embodying a superpower in virtual reality may prime players to ‘think like superheroes’ and thus facilitate subsequent helpful behavior in the real world. Alternately, 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.

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