How you represent yourself in the virtual world of video games may affect how you behave with your near and dear ones in the real world, claims new research.
“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,” said lead researcher Gunwoo Yoon of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Virtual environments give people an opportunity to take on identities and experience circumstances that they can't in real life, added Yoon.
The researchers recruited 194 undergraduates to participate in two supposedly unrelated studies.
The participants were randomly assigned to play as Superman (a heroic avatar), Voldemort (a villainous avatar), or a circle (a neutral avatar).
They played a game for five minutes in which they, as their avatars, were tasked with fighting enemies.
Then, in a presumably unrelated study, they participated in a blind taste test.
They were asked to taste and then give either chocolate or chilli sauce to a future participant.
They were told to pour the chosen food item into a plastic dish and that the future participant would consume all of the food provided.
The results were revealing: Participants who played as Superman poured, on average, nearly twice as much chocolate as chilli sauce for the 'future participant'.
Participants who played as Voldemort poured out nearly twice as much of the spicy chilli sauce than they did chocolate, and they poured significantly more chilli sauce compared to the other participants.
“These behaviours occur despite modest, equivalent levels of self-reported identification with heroic and villainous avatars, alike,” noted Yoon.
People are prone to be unaware of the influence of their virtual representations on their behavioural responses, added the findings published in the journal Psychological Science.