Superhero volunteers 'more helpful'

Published 30/01/2013|22:30

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Researchers said that acting the role of a superhero can make you start to behave like one

Acting the part of a superhero can make you start to behave like one in real life, a study has found.

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Scientists created a virtual reality environment in which volunteers had the ability to fly through the air like Superman or rode as passengers in a helicopter.

Using their alter egos, both groups were then assigned one of two tasks - either helping to find a missing diabetic child, or exploring a virtual city.

Regardless of what task they were given, those with Superman powers showed a tendency to be more helpful after returning to the "real" world.

Participants wore virtual reality headsets to immerse them in a computer-generated city which had been evacuated after an earthquake warning. Flying like Superman involved lifting the arms to take off and controlling speed and direction with movements of the hands.

Volunteers given the rescue mission were told they had to carry insulin to a diabetic child who was unaccounted for after the evacuation.

This was done either by using superhero powers to soar above the city, or looking out for the child while being piloted in the helicopter. Alternatively, both superheroes and helicopter passengers were told simply to explore the virtual city from the air.

After their virtual reality experience, participants were tested without their knowledge in a second part of the study. Each volunteer was asked to take a seat while the researcher put away her equipment. During this process, she "accidentally" knocked over a cup of 15 pens.

Participants who had been given the chance to fly like Superman were more likely to pick up the pens than those who had been helicopter passengers. Whether or not they had been sent to find the missing girl made no difference.

The US researchers, led by Dr Robin Rosenberg, from Stanford University, wrote in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE: "Flying participants were quicker to help than helicopter participants."

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