Virtual superpowers encourage real-world empathy:

With a whoosh of air, the subjects left the ground – either controlling their flight by a series of arm motions, like Superman, or as a passenger in a helicopter. As they scoured the city, wall-mounted speakers gave the impression of wind whistling by; powerful speakers in the floor produced vibrations to simulate riding in a helicopter. The experiment was set so that two minutes into the simulation, no matter what mode of transport, the subject found the sick child.

After removing the virtual reality goggles, each person then sat with an experimenter to answer a few questions about the experience. This questionnaire, however, was a ruse: During the interview, the experimenter would "accidentally" knock over a cup filled with 15 pens. She would wait five seconds to see if the subject would help her pick them up, and then begin collecting the pens, one pen per second, to give the person another opportunity to come to her aid.

The people who had just flown as Superman were quick to lend a hand, beginning to pick up the pens within three seconds. The helicopter group, however, picked up the first pen, on average, after six seconds (one second after the experimenter began picking them up herself).

The superhero group not only pitched in first, they also picked up about 15 percent more pens on average. While everyone who flew like Superman picked up some pens, six participants who rode in the helicopter failed to offer any help at all.

The conclusion:

"If we can identify the mechanism that encourages empathy, then perhaps we can design technology and video games that people will enjoy and that will successfully promote altruistic behavior in the real world."

Seems a bit dark-artsy, using a known cognitive bias, even for good ends, but probably nothing out of the ordinary.


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Seems a bit dark-artsy, using a known cognitive bias, even for good ends

You are made out of cognitive biases. Every time you do something good using your brain, you are using cognitive biases for good ends. Rationalists win, and winning means recognizing what your tools are and using them accordingly.

Admittedly, there's a world of difference between tricking yourselves and tricking others, but I think everyone agrees that it's still worthwhile.

Got it! My strategy is clear.

Isn't this what you were already doing with HPMoR? I can attest that the first time I really started taking things like effective charity seriously is when I started thinking things like "MoR!Harry would take this seriously, so I should too."

It's interesting to know that the comic book stereotype of "innate superpowers=>good guy, technologically upgraded abilities=>bad guy" is that accurate.

That, not to mention that the two best known tech-based superheroes, Iron Man and Batman, are sometimes portrayed fairly cynically and Iron Man in particular tends to be a giant dick. Of course, Iron Man has superhuman design skills...

Really actually kind of wonder where this comes from.

If I hear about "fun flying games" being implemented in workplaces, I will know why.

Interesting, although does not seem at all dark to me. I wish they had done experiments in which you must take a (probably social) cost or risk or something. Feel like a superhero, and then the Milgram experiment or something.

I'm thinking anti-bystander-effect training, for example, or something so that people won't feel so horrible about publicly disapproving of bigotry.

Probably, though it reminds me of the part in Brave New World, where the psychologist Bernard realizes that the beliefs of everyone who came to see him were actually just phrases repeated in their sleep. I think that if this idea were capitalized on, someone would have to go ahead and resolve this potential existential question before some poor soul runs into it by them-self.