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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