1. ITV Report

Video games 'can encourage real superhero behaviour'

The Nintendo Wii console offers virtual reality-style games. Photo: PA

A lot of research has been done on whether the harmful effects of video games causes the many youngsters who play them to become desensitised to violence, and even, more aggressive themselves.

Many parents worry about the antisocial habits of teenagers, who lock themselves away to play, often their own, for hours.

But now, scientists in America have found that playing virtual reality games can encourage "prosocial", selfless and helpful behaviour.

A study led by Dr Robin Rosenberg at Stanford University, and published today in the journal PLoS ONE, found that having a superpower in certain games, where the user is "immersed in virtual reality", can encourage people to use their force for good in real life.

Research participants were given a virtual reality headset, and some given the chance to fly like Superman. Credit: Stanford University / PLoS ONE

74 volunteers took part in the study - and participated in a virtual reality environment.

Some were assigned to be able to fly like Superman, and given the task of touring a virtual city, or sent to help find a lost diabetic child in need of insulin.

Others were assigned to ride as a passenger in a helicopter, and given the task of looking for the lost child that way, or touring the city.

After the virtual task was completed, a researcher "accidentally" knocked over a set of pens, allowing the participants a chance to help pick them up.

Those who had been given the chance to fly like Superman were more likely to pick up the pens than those who had been helicopter passengers, regardless of whether they had been sent to search for the missing child.

Six participants did not help to pick them up at all - these people were all in the passive helicopter condition, as opposed to the active Superman condition.

The research found people who had a chance to act as a superhero were more likely to be helpful by picking up pens afterwards. Credit: Stanford University / PLoS ONE

The researchers have suggested that having the ability to fly in a virtual reality "primes concepts and stereotypes related to superheroes, and thus facilitates subsequent helping behaviour in the real world."

They suggested that it could go further still, and "shift participants' self-concept or identity in a powerful way as "someone who helps"."

They have said that the next step could be examining how long the effect lasted.

It is expected that there will be more games allowing users to be more fully immersed in virtual reality in the next few years.