Monday, February 04, 2013

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Study Suggests Virtual Superhero Behavior Increases Helpful Real Life Behavior

Kall in SL and Africa

A person who roleplays as a superhero in a virtual reality environment tends to be more helpful in real life, a new academic study suggests. In the experiment they conducted, the paper's researchers gave some volunteers a virtual reality avatar capable of Superman-style flight, and other volunteers an avatar who only flew around in a virtual helicopter. After this experience, both sets of volunteers encountered a researcher who "accidentally" spilled a bunch of pens on the floor in front of them. And here's the amazing thing: The volunteers who roleplayed as a flying superhero were more likely to help pick up pens, and more of them.

I'm very briefly summarizing the results, which you can read in full here, but it corresponds to other research which suggests a similar phenomenon, of virtual, avatar-driven behavior seemingly leading to positive real life behavior. In fact, this study was co-authored by Stanford's Jeremy Bailenson, who also co-wrote a landmark 2008 study in Second Life, suggesting that roleplaying in Second Life as an attractive avatar boosts actual self-esteem. Speaking somewhat more anecdotally, I've seen similar effects in Second Life:

For instance, an SLer who used to roleplay as a Green Lantern superhero to help protect an informational Second Life sim about genocide in Africa went on to provide real life voluntary assistance in Africa itself.

Hat tip: Scott Hamilton

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Arcadia Codesmith

That's interesting. I'd assumed that the correlation was self-selection: people with helpful tendencies were more drawn to heroic roles. Randomly assigning the volunteers argues against that conclusion.

I wonder what would happen if the second set of avatars had the same powers as the superhero but were presented and costumed as supervillains. My advice: count the pens afterwards.

Pappy Enoch

The opposite am true too, Mistopher Au.

Since I done bekum a fake SL hillbilly I done my good gal wrong, wrecked my truck drinkin' Shine an' drivin' blind, runned over my dawg (oh boo hoo I did luv that krittur), been stuck in jail fo' runnnin' a load to Knoxville, shot a man just to watch him die, been baptized in a crick, lost my religion the next week at a cat house, an' am preparin' to have me some hoo-whee! fun at the expense of some city-boys on a canoe trip.

Before SL, I were an investment banker at Lehman Brothers.


So you're telling us that the Golden Dawn-like vigilantes of the JLU (who cyberbullied a transgendered ex-member of their gang to suicide and then their leader gloated about it) are nice people?

Interesting thinking, Mr. Au.

Wolf Baginski

My AV is no superhero, but based on a character I developed for a series of stories. I think some of that character leaks into the AV behaviour. And I don't think it tells you anything about what playing the AV has done to the RL human's behaviour.

For one thing, my motives for being in SL are very different to those of the research subjects. And the experience of SL has pushed me into a greater use of sarcasm. I've used all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and... satire.

So has SL improved me, or just made me nervous about lurking giant hedgehogs?

Pussycat Catnap

Interesting. Because we've all been reading for the past 3 to 4 years now about how the SL-JLU super hero group is a major griefer organization, over on another two or three famous blogs.

So, are they heroes or griefers, and what had made Hamlet want to wade into this drama fest?


Let me put it this way: Beware everyone who decides to take "law enforcement" into his or her own hands and play "Neighborhood Watch", especially when no one asked him/her to.

Vigilantism is extremely dangerous. As for the "superhero" kind of thing, I've always been against superhero stories, because they tell people that someone else will handle things and all they have to do is sit passively and wait. Ever notice the sheep-like presence of the populace in all of these stories?

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