Embodying a superpower in virtual reality may prime players to ‘think like superheroes’ and thus facilitate subsequent helpful behavior in the real world. Alternately, participants who could fly in the game may have felt like more active participants than those who passively sat in the helicopter while performing tasks, and this more active involvement may have induced their subsequent behavior.
Flying like Superman in virtual reality can make you more helpful in real life. That's what my colleagues and I found in a recent study. At Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, Shawnee Baugman, Jeremy Bailenson, and I had participants enter a virtual environment and they were either given the power of flight or rode as passengers in a helicopter. They were then assigned one of two tasks: help find a missing diabetic child or tour a virtual city. Regardless of which task they performed, people who had the power of flight were significantly more likely to help a researcher pick up spilled pens in real life than the helicopter passengers were.