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Virtual Superpowers Translate To Real Life Desire To Help

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the comic-books-make-you-a-better-person dept.

Science 56

sciencehabit writes "You don't have to be Superman to help those in need, but you might be more willing to do so if you get a taste of his powers. When subjects in a new study strapped on virtual reality helmets, half of them were given the ability to fly around a simulated city, while the others sat passively in helicopters. Some were allowed to merely explore the city from their aerial vantage points; others were told they needed to find a missing diabetic child and deliver his lifesaving insulin. Regardless of which task they performed, the subjects granted the superpower of flight were more likely to help a researcher pick up spilled pens after the experiment was. The results have researchers wondering if our brains might react to the memory of a virtual experience as though it had really happened. If so, we may be able to use virtual reality and gaming to effectively treat psychological disorders such as PTSD."

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They already treat PTSD with games (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42763911)

here. [google.com]

Must resist urge to post it as a LMGTFY link.

It all makes sense now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42763929)

I now understand my overwhelming urge to hunt goblins (for money)!

Re:It all makes sense now (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764019)

Specifically by carving out miscellaneous organs and selling them to the clerk at the 7-11. Who, for the record, is an uncooperative bastard.

Seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42763945)

We could be designing more efficient CPUs, network infrastructures and compression techniques. Instead we're going back to a 20-year old fad with virtual reality? Why?

Re:Seriously? (1)

cheaphomemadeacid (881971) | about a year and a half ago | (#42763987)

Yeah just like that silly smartphone fad which failed miserably in the 90s

Re:Seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42764287)

Those jobs were already taken by the really smart people.

Re:Seriously? (2)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764963)

These researchers aren't the ones designing new technology, or indeed having any interest in it. These researchers are working on figuring out the unsolved mysteries of how the human brain works, so we can do useful things with those CPUs, network infrastructures, and compression techniques. These researchers are exploring the roots of helpful, kind, benevolent behavior, so that our future societies can encourage people to be nicer to each other, further lowering crime rates and improving the overall quality of life.

Then the nice happy people can sit back, relax, and watch streaming HD porn with their powerful computers, fast networks, and lossless compression.

PTSD (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42763975)

I'm getting PTSD from the disjointed grammar in the summary

Re:PTSD (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42764051)

I'm getting PTSD from the disjointed grammar in the summary

You mean Post Traumatic Summary Disorder?

Re:PTSD (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42765859)

Yes, for a disordered traumatic summary post.

So, it's saying? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42763985)

If this is true, we ma be able to do what we have already have proven possible and are already doing?

Someone get me a grant! I need to test the "usage of hookers and blow to make people happier" hypothesis.

VR BS (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764005)

No need for the VR hardware BS, just ask a DM / GM about how their players behave after leveling up. In fact you need a correction factor for "3 dimensional thinking" vs "2 dimensional thinking". Think how cranky Kahn was in ST:2 and his legendary two-dimensional thinking.

I think you need to correct the study for happiness, although how you'd do it without bias is a mystery. Its probably easy to half ass it, like most soft sciences.

I need mod points (4, Insightful)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764567)

Thank you for being the first person to state the obvious here.

Oh, and let me paraphrase the summary:

We gave one group of subjects strawberry ice cream cones. We gave a second group dry spaghetti noodles.

Afterward, members of the first group were more willing to do us a favor than members of the second group.

Therefore, we conclude that there is a link between strawberries and altruistic behavior.

Re:I need mod points (1)

Halotron1 (1604209) | about a year and a half ago | (#42784809)

Great summary.

FTA: "the final sample included 30 females and 30 males"
So one group of scientists tested 60 people, one time.

If this exact study was repeated multiple times by different scientists with different subjects it might show an actual correlation,
but 60 people is a ridiculously small sample size to draw any conclusions from.

People are generally good (4, Insightful)

deathcloset (626704) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764021)

For the majority of us, the vast majority of our day involves saying "hi", smiling, putting things in the trashbin, paying for our lunch, holding the door open for someone, thinking about hanging out with friends over the weekend and other stuff which is just plain good. We call it 'neutral', but most of it is good. So when given extra power, we tend to do good things with it...at least at first. When someone wins the lottery or gets a big bonus, they tend to throw a party and buy stuff for themselves AND their friends. Doing nice things makes us feel good. Thinking of harming others is just not pleasant for most of us. Thinking of bad things is not pleasant. I believe we do, however, spend a lot of time thinking about bad things, and so we tend to get this false feeling that everything and everyone else is bad. It's that whole opposite charges attract deal. Because people are so generally good, we have a strange attraction to generally bad things. But generally we're good.

Re:People are generally good (3, Insightful)

oodaloop (1229816) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764485)

If you've ever raised a 2-year old, you'd know we're not inherently good, but trained to be good by our parents and other members of society. Kids will lie, cheat, and steal unless corrected, reprimanded, punished, and told how to behave themselves.

Re:People are generally good (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42765579)

And with the low quality of parenting for the last few decades, we now have a world full of 2 year-olds running around in 30 year-old bodies. This explains almost everything about why I have the urge to spank so many people while I'm and about.

Re:People are generally good (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year and a half ago | (#42767021)

Actually it's not that simple - a two year old is more accurately thought of as a larval human than simply a completely uneducated miniature adult from which we can make judgements about human nature - As one example they still lack the brain mechanism that allows them to project themselves into the perspective of someone else, the so called "mirror circuits" that allow them to recognize that the universe they see/know about is fundamentally different than the one that you see/know about. Example: Child A puts his treat on the table and leaves, where it gets taken by someone else before Child B comes in and puts *her* treat on the same table. Child A then comes back and begins to eat the treat on the table and conflict ensues. Child C who has been watching the entire process will be unable to understand that Child A is acting in a perfectly reasonable manner until the brain circuitry develops to allow them to project into the limited perspective of the participants, typically around 3-5 years old IIRC (and they continue developing for many years thereafter).

We're still uncertain about the full effects of those circuits, not to mention the dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of others that are still developing throughout childhood and adolescence, but without that circuitry being fully developed it's quite possible that a young child is physically incapable of experiencing adult-like compassion or empathy, or many of the other perspectives that lead contribute to us being social animals. As a result trying to make fundamental judgments of human nature by observing a child is much like trying to make fundamental judgements on the nature of a butterfly by observing a caterpillar.

Superpowers....or just being happy? (2)

Roger W Moore (538166) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764487)

When someone wins the lottery or gets a big bonus, they tend to throw a party and buy stuff for themselves AND their friends.

Exactly but my thought on reading the article is perhaps it is far more fun to be flying around the city by yourself rather than being stuck in a helicopter (which may have frustrating controls). If so perhaps all this experiment has shown is that when people are happy and content they are more willing to help out. Conversely if you have been frustrated and are unhappy you are probably less likely to be thinking about helping others.

Yes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42764495)

If just 0.01% of people were trying to cause chaos, there would be no stopping them.

Modern societies exist because people are good.

Re:People are generally good (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42764529)

Yes, but we are also wired to see thing from a perspective that favours us or even to lie to ourselves for our own benefit. This is most often how good people do or enable bad things to happen, not by being bad but by not seeing the bad that they are allowing or even participating in. This is why ideas such as "charity is inherently dis-enabling" or "the free market is inherently good" or "they will get their reward in heaven" are so dangerous These ideas allow people who are capable of preventing starvation or death, rewarding people appropriately for their effort, or protecting others from injustice at their own, even quite small, cost in time or effort to stand by and still feel that they have done good.

Re:People are generally good (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764941)

But... but... corporations are people my friend. So are you extending it to "corporations are generally good" too?

Re:People are generally good (1)

Hatta (162192) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764991)

We call it 'neutral', but most of it is good.

The only thing required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Thinking of harming others is just not pleasant for most of us. Thinking of bad things is not pleasant.

Most people handle this by just not thinking about the harm they do, whether intentional or not.

Re:People are generally good (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year and a half ago | (#42765403)

Yes, people are generally good and desire to help.

However, the cancellation of City of Heroes just fills me with desire to hurt.

Re:People are generally good (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year and a half ago | (#42766799)

You just described the daily routine of many war criminals and the leaders of any awful destructive corporation of your choosing.

Re:People are generally good (1)

fikx (704101) | about a year and a half ago | (#42771571)

Doing the things you describe do not show people are generally good. People are generally cooperative and social as a survival adaptation. Not trying to sound too pessimistic, but my point is you need to look a little deeper than your examples to find good in people. You're doing a huge disservice to truly good people by your comment.

The leap (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42764035)

I've sat here and thought about it for a few minutes, and I don't quite understand...

I can kinda understand how giving someone a virtual superpower might translate to someone briefly feeling "empowered" and "superheroic" once they leave the VR, which would cause them to want to help the researcher who spilled his pens.

Could someone explain, however, how you could field this into treating a disorder such as PTSD?

I'd tend to think it would be more appropriate to use against borderline sociopathic disorders, encouraging their sense of empathy.

Re:The leap (2)

Antipater (2053064) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764327)

Wouldn't giving a sociopath simulated superpowers just turn him into a supervillain though? Forget the pens, he'd smash the coffee-maker!

Re:The leap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42764571)

Perhaps surprisingly, this is the same A/C.

Realistically, giving a sociopath might result in sociopathic activities simply expanded by virtue of the superpower; They don't cause harm because they want to cause harm, they cause harm because they can get away with it and it benefits them. They murder the guy in the alley a few streets over and take his $20, not because they're evil but because they don't /care/ that it's evil and, hey, free $20. They may well help pick the pens up, in fact, because they understand that it's an act that a "good" person would do, and it might make the researcher feel positively towards them in something that they plan on later.

Breaking the coffee-maker would be appropriate for evil, but not someone who's simply amoral.

Re:The leap (1)

HPHatecraft (2748003) | about a year and a half ago | (#42765139)

I think that was the question posed by H.G. Wells: "Does power corrupt?" or do people have latent tendencies that are brought about by extraordinary circumstances?

At any rate, is I think this study is stupid. Wouldn't experiencing a VR simulation where the test subject has the opportunity to be kind to someone be sufficient stimulus? How can they distinguish between that and the experience of having superpowers?

Re:The leap (1)

Antipater (2053064) | about a year and a half ago | (#42765423)

At any rate, is I think this study is stupid. Wouldn't experiencing a VR simulation where the test subject has the opportunity to be kind to someone be sufficient stimulus? How can they distinguish between that and the experience of having superpowers?

No, because they did control for that. People flying a helicopter saving kids did not help with the pens afterwards. Meanwhile, people given superpowered flight who did not save kids were as likely to help with the pens as people given superpowered flight who did save kids.

Re:The leap (1)

HPHatecraft (2748003) | about a year and a half ago | (#42766407)

How is that a control? I don't understand the significance of flying in helicopter? What does that mean?

Re:The leap (1)

Antipater (2053064) | about a year and a half ago | (#42766619)

Because it shows it's not about "doing simulated kindness means you do real-life kindness". It's about "having simulated superpowers means you do real-life kindness". Everyone was flying - half in a helicopter and half with superpowers. The people in helicopters did not show kindness in real life, regardless of whether or not they had in VR. The people with superpowers did show kindness in real life, regardless of whether or not they had in VR.

The method of flight proved to be the important variable, not the simulated kindness.

Re:The leap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42764829)

This is an artifact of the current funding and scientific reporting system.

It is considered important to throw in a brief 'real world application' of the current research. These are steeped in a fair pile of BS and at best are distant future directions.

I can actually see the thought process on this one. Boil down your theory into something that can be VERY broadly applied, in this case, "experience in VR can impact behavior in real life". So now you can establish this research as being potentially relevant to any psychological disorder, you then pick the one that is getting the most attention at the moment.

These are the sort of things that most other researchers don't even read, but are latched onto by any scientific journalism reporter. I was a bit embarrassed when one of my papers was pitched as being vital research into a cure for alzheimer's, when it was in fact just biology of memory research.

Poor, unsuspecting lab rats, er, students (1)

benzaholic (1862134) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764039)

So the real measuring point of the experiment wasn't until after all the VR stuff. The researcher would "accidentally" drop some pens. Interestingly structured.

Gotta stay hyperaware of everybody and everything these days. If, as I suspect without reading the article, the test subjects were a bunch of college students, then they were probably not yet sufficiently cynical to watch out for that kind of treatment.

Re:Poor, unsuspecting lab rats, er, students (1)

Agent ME (1411269) | about a year and a half ago | (#42765525)

Those poor, unsuspecting college students, secretly forced to possibly help someone pick up some pens!

Uhoh... (1)

JeanCroix (99825) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764089)

Someone accidentally their experiment.

Conclusion may be wrong (1)

cockpitcomp (1575439) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764115)

They concluded that actively flying and doing good results in a tendency to do good after the game. I think it is more likely has to do with a spectator/participant frame of mind.

Re:Conclusion may be wrong (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764483)

Actually, the summery at least, clearly states that the only effect their measures was that giving virtual super powers resulted in increased likelihood to help pick up the pens.

The group flying around in helicopters saving children apparently did not get this and the group flying around using super powers but not saving children got the same results as the other super power wielders.

Re:Conclusion may be wrong (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year and a half ago | (#42766875)

BUT the "superman" group had direct control while the helicopter group just rode around...too bad they didn't have a group that flew their own helicopter (with arcadey controls).

Dreaming (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764305)

The results have researchers wondering if our brains might react to the memory of a virtual experience as though it had really happened.

Duhh, just like dreaming, which is a virtual experience? Haven't they shown MRIs of people dreaming (or even THINKING of past events) that show the exact same parts of the brain being used as if they're experiencing something real? What is new in this?

If so, we may be able to use virtual reality and gaming to effectively treat psychological disorders such as PTSD.

Duhh, already exists, has been on news shows for several years now. I saw an updated report very recently, I think on Nightline.

vice versa? just asking (1)

zlives (2009072) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764309)

if
"we may be able to use virtual reality and gaming to effectively treat psychological disorders such as PTSD."
then
does this imply that VR and gaming (the violent kind) can cause psychological disorders as well.

Re:vice versa? just asking (1)

mark-t (151149) | about a year and a half ago | (#42765993)

Are you new here?

It's not polite in these parts to even a hint that there might be a correlation between playing violent video games and negatively aberrant behavior. At the very least, you'll be asked to cite half a dozen studies which show it... and you'll have to cross check those studies against any other studies done since which may have directly controverted the conclusions of said studies, and make sure to be sure that any studies you do cite have not been disputed.

So... no.

Just Sayin... (1)

GReaToaK_2000 (217386) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764337)

But if they can show that virtual reality and games can have a positive affect on the mental state of people, you can't tell me the reverse isn't true.

Seems silly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42764559)

Ockham's razor tells me that the actual explanation is that flying around like superman in a video game makes people feel good, and people in a better mood are more likely to be helpful. If that's the only guaranteed reaction "to the memory of a virtual experience", then I'm not sure how it is going to help treat people for psychological disorders any more than sitting them in front of an Xbox would.

Captcha: unsure

strapped on (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about a year and a half ago | (#42764971)

From what I've read (but don't know first hand), when a woman straps something on to obtain super-powers she becomes a whole different animal.

So after I go ganking... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42765321)

Would I be more likely to punch the research who spilled pens?

Taylor likes me too much to bitch, too. (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year and a half ago | (#42765355)

"The results have researchers wondering if our brains might react to the memory of a virtual experience as though it had really happened."

Fuck off. I distinctly recall fucking about 2/3 the women in Hollywood over the years.

One little problem with this theory: (1)

idontgno (624372) | about a year and a half ago | (#42765447)

The existence of gankers.

Seriously. Retune the simulation that you have to option to help, or harm, innocent on-line simulated NPCs. Give some of the test subjects superpowers. See how many of them use their powers to ruin one or more simulated persons' day. And then see if those superpowers makes them a happy, smiley, helpful person IRL.

VR danger (1)

JanKanar (2830735) | about a year and a half ago | (#42765627)

VR might be helpfull but on the other hand it may do more harm than good. The more this technology develops the more problems it will create. We already have people who "live" on the internet and if you will enchance their experiances it might even get worse in the future. So moderation in applying new ideas is a must.

Re:VR danger (1)

miroku000 (2791465) | about a year and a half ago | (#42771597)

VR might be helpfull but on the other hand it may do more harm than good. The more this technology develops the more problems it will create. We already have people who "live" on the internet and if you will enchance their experiances it might even get worse in the future. So moderation in applying new ideas is a must.

It is kind of ironic that you are posting on Slashdot about the dangers of "living on the internet"... But this whole moderation approach to new ideas has its drawbacks too. That's the Amish philosophy on new technology. Anyway, in the future, everyone will live on the internet all the time. Everyone with a smartphone already does. Living on the internet has greatly improved humanity.

When games are linked to violence, ... (1)

Grismar (840501) | about a year and a half ago | (#42766233)

... the outrage can hardly be contained. But when linked to positive behavior, people are tripping over each other to go "of course, obviously". Little bias, perhaps?

Helping Burn Victims (1)

Striikerr (798526) | about a year and a half ago | (#42766273)

I heard about a project where Virtual Reality was used to help burn patients suffer less. They participate in a VR world called SnowWorld Link http://www.hitl.washington.edu/projects/vrpain/ [washington.edu] and a report about it http://www.npr.org/2012/02/12/146775049/virtual-penguins-a-prescription-for-pain [npr.org]

The reduction in pain for the patients was significant and consistent. I had first heard of this when NPR was talking about soldiers returning from Iraq and how this helped them deal with pain. It's amazing what this kind of technology can do to help people, particularly those who have been injured. I am sure that VR will be able to help those who suffer from PTSD and who knows what else. The SnowWorld stuff is quite fascinating and worth a read. Do a Google search and you'll find plenty of information on it.

How much stew can you make? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42766457)

How much stew can you make with NO oysters? The sample size wasn't big enough, and it doesn't seem as if the actual test, the pen-drop event at the end, is meaningful in the real-world.

If instead of pens being dropped, someone had needed help moving out of a 5 story walk-up and owns a $1000+ collection of weight-lifting equipment, (most of which is... wait for it... wait... yep. Weights.) Also, why not, the guy is old, crotchety, and has a couple grand-pianos too.

See how big of a difference the ability to V-leap over tall buildings with a single bound versus V-touring the city in a V-helicopter makes then.

Was the researcher who dropped the pens attractive? Did they account for sexual orientation of the subjects? Did they count the pens to see if while the students were helping pick the pens up, they maybe pocketed a few, meaning virtual superpowers make people more prone to steal...

This study doesn't seem to have any oysters in it, and they've made a whole bucket of what they're claiming is oyster stew. If I weren't revolted by oysters, I'd be mad that the stew appears to be completely devoid of any oysters at all.

Great study, faulty conclusion (1)

Spazmania (174582) | about a year and a half ago | (#42767017)

From the study: In the super flight condition, participants controlled their flight through the VR environment. In the two helicopter conditions, participants were merely told that they were to be a passenger in a helicopter and their task would be explained once immersed in virtual reality. Their field of view varied only as a function of their head movements (i.e., they did not control translation of the helicopter but could look around the vehicle and out the window). Both flights were through an empty, generic city.

When the researcher dropped his pens, one participant had been actively flying through a VR environment, choosing where to go and going there, for several minutes. The other had been passively seated, with no control over the avatar except to look around.

So, the folks who had just been active moments before continued to be active, assisting with the dropped pens while the folks who had just been passive moments before continued to be passive, observing the researcher as he retrieved the dropped pens.

Had the study been fliers versus walkers with both in control of the avatars, I bet the study results would have shown identical helping behavior.

(sigh) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42796667)

So, City of Heroes closes down, we lose many thousands of people just a smidge more willing to be nice to each other.

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