Science says playing at being a superhero can make you a better person

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Jul 4, 2015, 4:37 PM EDT (Updated)

Some people think that videogames and superheroes are bad for people, but, thanks to science, we can put that argument to bed.

LiveScience enacted a fascinating study.  Here's their explanation:

To see if embodying a helpful role in virtual reality made people more helpful afterward, scientists had 60 volunteers don virtual reality helmets and engage in scenarios where they were either given the power of flight or rode as passengers in a helicopter. They were also assigned one of two tasks — they had to tour a virtual city or help find a missing diabetic child in need of insulin in that city.

So, essentially, we have two sets of people.  One that did something only slightly beyond the everyday and the other that did something that can only happen if you're dreaming or Superman.  What were the results, and what was the metric they used to test?

After the virtual simulation was over, a bunch of pens was "accidentally" knocked onto the floor.  The result?  The six people who did NOT partake of the Superman-style flight didn't bother to help anyone pick up the pens.  Conversely, the people who flew up in the sky like a bird or a plane were MORE likely to help out.

Robin Rosenberg, clinical psychologist and author of Superhero Origins: What Makes Superheroes Tick and Why We Care says, "The experience of super-flight in and of itself appears to be the salient variable that led people to help outside of virtual reality."

This leaves us to wonder if this behavior pattern would only be true as a result of a virtual-reality simulation.  What about playing a first-person game in a similar style?  Would the results change if the game were in third person or if the person were merely watching a show or movie or reading a comic book where someone was able to fly?

That is one of the questions psychologists are now looking at as a result of this experiment.  They're also looking to see if virtual reality games in this style could aid with phobias or post-traumatic stress.  The study itself concluded that:

Whereas much research has been done on whether and how violent videogames can lead to aggressive behavior, this is the first study to document that the “next” technology in video gaming–virtual reality–has the potential to facilitate prosocial behavior by allowing players to become superheroes.

Something else to note is that the words "hero" and "superhero" were never used during the course of the study.  Color us intrigued.  We're very excited to see what further studies like this one will discover.

(via The Mary Sue)