Pretending to be Voldemort makes you more dastardly, whereas pretending to be Superman makes you more good natured — at least, that’s according to new research published in Psychological Science, which claims the way in which you decide to represent yourself in a virtual environment can influence your behaviour in the real world.
“Our results indicate that just five minutes of role-play in virtual environments as either a hero or villain can easily cause people to reward or punish anonymous strangers,” says lead researcher Gunwoo Yoon of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Virtual environments provide “a vehicle for observation, imitation, and modelling” says the report, allowing people to take on characteristics or create entirely different personalities that they may feel they cannot or do not want to enact in real life.
Yoon and coauthor Patrick Vargas wondered whether the specific virtual experiences of taking on heroic or villainous avatars could seep into everyday life, and so recruited 194 undergraduates to participate in the study to find out.
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