Ever dream of becoming a super hero? Playing the hero in video games may actually help make that a reality!

Violent video games have long been thought to increase aggression, but it appears that the opposite is true as well. A study done at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Laboratory shows that having superpowers in a video game can make people more altruistic.

Stanford researchers used a simulation game to test their theory. One at a time, 60 men and women strapped on virtual reality goggles and were whisked away to a virtual cityscape. Their airborne mission: to deliver insulin to a diabetic child. Half of the test subjects completed their mission by flying in a helicopter; the other half controlled their flight by a series of arm motions, like Superman.

After the mission, the test subjects each sat down with a researcher to answer questions about the experience. This is where the real research began! During the discussion, the researcher would “accidentally” knock over a cup of pens. The researcher would then wait five seconds to see if the subject would help her. Then she would begin collecting the pens one at a time to give the subject another chance to help.

The subjects who had just flown as Superman lent a hand after an average of only three seconds, whereas those who had flown in a helicopter began helping after an average of six seconds.

This data shows that heroic behavior in a virtual environment can transfer to altruistic behavior in the real world. The researchers are hopeful that if they can identify what exactly encourages empathy and altruism, they can design technology and video games that will successfully promote altruistic behavior in the real world.

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