In most superhero origin stories, there's the moment of doubt: How will Peter Parker use his radioactive-spider powers? Invariably, the heroes use them to help others. Turns out, that's pretty close to what happens in real life (or at least in the lab): When Stanford researchers endowed people with the power of flight in virtual reality, the subjects became more altruistic back in real reality.
This was the experiment's setup: Researchers had 30 men and 30 women strap on a pair of a virtual reality goggles. Then one by one, the subjects entered a simulator--a room researchers could manipulate with speakers to make an imagined situation more life-like. In the simulation, all of the subjects were sent to a city, and a woman's voice announced that their mission was to find a diabetic child and deliver an insulin injection to him. One group did that by riding passenger-side in a helicopter, while the other group got Superman-esque flying powers. (A recognizable power more associated with "do-gooder" heroes.) For both groups, the speakers vibrated the floor and created a feeling of wind whistling by. No matter which group the subject was in, he or she found the child in 2 minutes and delivered the shot. (Hoo-rah!)
Next, one by one, the subjects were brought into an "interview" with a researcher who (supposedly) wanted to know more about their experiences. But it was a charade. The researcher, with every subject, intentionally knocked over a cup with 15 pens, waited 5 seconds, then started picking up the pens, 1 second per pen. The people who were given flying powers in the simulation were more likely to help pick up the pens than the helicopter-riders. On average, the superheroes started picking up pens in 3 seconds, compared to 6 seconds in the other group, and the flight-endowed subjects picked up 15 percent more pens overall. Everyone in the Superman group helped pick up pens, but six participants in the helicopter group abstained.
The researchers admit that the results can be interpreted in different ways. Did the flyers help more because they could fly, or because they took a more direct role in helping the diabetic child? Put another way: It's clear the subjects were being more altruistic, but why is still up in the air. The next time, the researchers will let the subjects fly, but send them along a pre-determined route. If that changes the results, they'll know if it's the ability to fly anywhere that helped, or the ability to fly in general.
It's an interesting--even sweet--experiment, but there might be a dark side to it, too. The Stanford team takes it as a given that the opposite of their experiment also works: violent games, they say, cause aggressive behavior. (Something other scientists would disagree with). But if we were to take the results at face value, and conclude that people can be primed for goodness with games, what does that say about people being primed for badness?
Hopefully people are more ready to be Superman than Lex Luthor.
This looks fun and yes if I was playing it I like to be the hero, but on bored days with no consequences from reality, I be happy to be the villain too.
In real life like I do try to be good, every day. ;)
If I got superpowers I'd go evil within a second.
"Put another way: It's clear the subjects were being more altruistic, but why is still up in the air." HA! Up in the air... because they were flying! Funny! Very funny!
Violent video games cause aggressive behavior in a society where violent video game sales have skyrocketed (more money is spent on violent video games than any other single entertainment source) and violent crime has plummeted. The conclusion of the study (like so many others) does not play out in the real world. One possible explanation for this is that in almost ALL video games, the player is a hero, not a villain.
There are some games, notably Black and White, allow the player to choose to be good or evil. Interestingly, most Americans choose to be good while the opposite is true in much of the rest of the world.
THAT IS AWESOME!
Well done popsci. Great article. I want to hear more when it comes out!
St. Louis, Mo and the whole state is awesome!
Being a villain is more lucrative.
Why are these people spamming the comments? Please go away, this article was a lovely read, until I see yweuiusfdiu. The cat thing is fragmented btw. At least fix it.
I reject your reality, and substitute my own.
I was very honest in my first comment and I would also like to point out the opposite of what many people say about violent video games.
“Many people say violent video games encourage more violence.” I suggest the opposite can be true.
For me, I use a violent video game as a source of stress relief. A person at work or like might be really annoying. I can go home and release my stress of that person on the video game via the games violence and my own imagination. In reality no real harm was done and I am better prepared to tolerate and deal with the annoying person the next day.
There is no basis to assume that it is a given that the opposite of their experiment also works, that violent games cause aggressive behavior. It's not like their experiment showed that being exposed to good acts inspired good acts, it was the super-powers that made the difference, duh.
It seems possible that giving people ‘evil’ superpowers would have the same positive effect, not negative as assumed (but not studied) by the researchers – that would be consistent with research that shows no relation between violent games (ex. first person shooter/as bad guy) and violent behavior in the real world.
It was because us superhumans cannot stand the ineptitude of you petty subhumans.
When confronted with your clumsy ways and pathetically slow pen recovery rate, we hop in to finish the job with the speed and competence that we are used to.
In other words, we simply act because we have less patients for all of your many, many flaws.
The most controversial games I can think of are the GTA series, which incidentally got its violence from its free-form game play. Did I not read the article correctly when it said that one of the reasons for the altruism may have stemmed from the freedom of the super-flight? So, how did they reach the conclusion that the violent games cause violence? Was there some unmentioned test where one group was given an altruistic mission while another was given a destructive mission? Maybe, it’s just one more case of common sense, with common sense approaches to reach common sense conclusions?
how about give them the same mission but put them in a GTA type environment? Will they shoot and steal to save the child?