R. S. Rosenberg et al., PLOS ONE, 8, 1 (January 2013); (Cartoon Inset) iStockphoto/Thinkstock

ScienceShot: Virtual Superpowers Translate to Real Life

You don't have to be Superman to help those in need, but you might be more willing to do so if you get a taste of his powers. When subjects in a new study strapped on virtual reality helmets, half of them were given the ability to fly around a simulated city, while the others sat passively in helicopters. Some were allowed to merely explore the city from their aerial vantage points; others were told they needed to find a missing diabetic child and deliver his lifesaving insulin. Regardless of which task they performed, the subjects granted the superpower of flight (such as the one pictured) were more likely to help a researcher pick up spilled pens after the experiment was over, the team reports today in PLOS ONE. The results have researchers wondering if our brains might react to the memory of a virtual experience as though it had really happened. If so, we may be able to use virtual reality and gaming to effectively treat psychological disorders such as PTSD. Or, at least to paraphrase one of Superman's compatriots, it appears that great power does indeed inspire great responsibility.

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