Virtual good guy superpowers spark reallife altruism

first_imgThere are a few less-than-positive philosophies in the world regarding human nature. One such philosophy suggests that no human is naturally inclined to be “good,” and that we are naturally inclined to be selfish, performing whatever task would benefit us most. Another such philosophy suggests that there is no such thing as human altruism, because performing altruistic acts makes us feel good about ourselves, which means we benefit from the act rather than it being completely selfless. Another such philosophical statement suggests that we would never evolve superpowers because we wouldn’t use them responsibly. A group of researchers at Stanford set out to explore the latter two philosophies — to find out how we would react were we to be granted superpowers.Researchers at Stanford’s Virtual Human Interface Laboratory (VHIL) gave test subjects the superpower of flight via a virtual reality interface. Interestingly, the power was chosen because the research team felt that the power of flight would be seen as a power used for good. The research didn’t quite explain exactly why flight was thought to be viewed as power of good, but compared to, say, the power to shoot fire out of your hands, flight does seem more like a heroic power. Associating the power with Superman was cited as a reason, however.As for the experiment, 60 participants — half male, half female — each took their own turn in a virtual reality simulator. The software placed the participants in a VR city, and a voiceover instructed them to fly around the infrastructure and locate a child that required insulin within a time limit. One group was bestowed with the superhuman ability of flight, while the other group traveled around the city in a helicopter.The subjects were instructed to raise their arms to begin flying, and they were off searching the virtual city. Perhaps a bit cleverly, the simulation ended in two minutes whether or not the subject manually located the child, but either way, the simulation always ended with the child receiving the insulin.After the flying fun was over, the virtual heroes had to then sit down with researchers and answer questions; however, none of the questions actually mattered. At some point during the survey, the researcher would knock over a cup containing 15 pens, playing it off as an accident. The researcher would wait five seconds to see if the subject would help pick up the pens, then after those five seconds passed, would pick up the pens at a slow rate of one per second (rather than, for example, all at once). This gave the participant more time to offer help. The researcher found that participants that were granted the power of flight would help pick up the pens in about three seconds, whereas the helicopter participants offered to pick up the pens after six seconds.Every virtual flier offered to pick up pens, and picked up 15% more pens than the helicopter group, who had six subjects that didn’t offer to pick up any pens.The researchers noted that though the superpowered participants all offered to help, they still need to test whether the power of flight has specific altruistic implications, or just superpowers in general. They also note that — much to the chagrin of gamers everywhere — since this research suggests that doing good in a virtual environment can influence someone to do good in real life, that performing virtual violent acts could make people violent in real life. Thank god someone brought this up again, we couldn’t really deal with going too long between hearing the sentiment.last_img