Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Virtual Superheroes: Using Superpowers in Virtual Reality to Encourage Prosocial Behavior

game-based learningPlaying the part of a flying superhero in virtual reality games heightens gamers’ social conscience in the real world, according to a study by a team of psychologists. Wired magazine pointed to an interesting paper published by Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, revealed a growing body of clinical work that demonstrates gaming can have a good influence.

This paper is with open access license, here is the abstract :

Background: Recent studies have shown that playing prosocial video games leads to greater subsequent prosocial behavior in the real world. However, immersive virtual reality allows people to occupy avatars that are different from them in a perceptually realistic manner. We examine how occupying an avatar with the superhero ability to fly increases helping behavior.

Principal Findings: Using a two-by-two design, participants were either given the power of flight (their arm movements were tracked to control their flight akin to Superman’s flying ability) or rode as a passenger in a helicopter, and were assigned one of two tasks, either to help find a missing diabetic child in need of insulin or to tour a virtual city. Participants in the ‘‘super-flight’’ conditions helped the experimenter pick up spilled pens after their virtual experience significantly more than those who were virtual passengers in a helicopter.

Conclusion: The results indicate that having the ‘‘superpower’’ of flight leads to greater helping behavior in the real world, regardless of how participants used that power. A possible mechanism for this result is that having the power of flight primed concepts and prototypes associated with superheroes (e.g., Superman). This research illustrates the potential of using experiences in virtual reality technology to increase prosocial behavior in the physical world.

Citation: Rosenberg RS, Baughman SL, Bailenson JN (2013) Virtual Superheroes: Using Superpowers in Virtual Reality to Encourage Prosocial Behavior. PLoS ONE 8(1): e55003. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055003

Editor: Attila Szolnoki, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungary

Received October 18, 2012; Accepted December 21, 2012; Published January 30, 2013

Copyright:  2013 Rosenberg et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Also professor Karl Kapp elaborated this finding with more examples : Using Games and Avatars to Change Learner Behavior.

In a study led by Douglas A. Gentil from Iowa state university with researchers from around the world, the findings indicated that video games in which game characters help and support each other in nonviolent ways increase both short-term and long-term pro-social behaviors.[2] The research team reported on three studies conducted in three countries with three age groups.

In a correlational study, Singaporean middle-school students who played more pro-social games behaved more pro-socially. In two longitudinal samples of Japanese children and adolescents, pro-social game play predicted later increases in pro-social behavior. In an experimental study, U.S. undergraduates randomly assigned to play pro-social games behaved more pro-socially toward another student. These results across different methodologies, ages, and cultures provide robust evidence that pro-social games can positively impact pro-social behavior.

In another study, researchers wanted to see if a person’s empathic reactions to social issues could be influenced by playing an interactive digital game. The study focused on a game called “Darfur is Dying”. It is a narrative-based game where the player, from the perspective of a displaced refuge, negotiates forces that threaten the survival of his or her refugee camp. It is meant to highlight the plight of people who have been displaced by the fighting in the Sudan region of Africa. Two experiments were conducted.

The first experiment demonstrated that playing the “Darfur is Dying” game and resulted in greater willingness to help the Darfurian people than reading a text conveying the same information.

The second experiment added a game watching condition and results were found such that game playing resulted in greater role-taking and willingness to help than game watching and text reading. The study provides empirical evidence that interactive digital games are more effective than non-interactive presentation modes in influencing people’s empathic reactions to social issues.[3]

Also read Karl’s article Can a Video Game Make Someone Nice? The Positive Impact of Pro-social Games for a discussion of an additional research study on this topic published at eLearn Magazine.

photo credit: Paul Jacobson via photopin cc


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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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