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Characters In Video Games Impact Real-World Behavior

Update Date: Feb 10, 2014 04:50 PM EST

Playing an evil character in a video game can make you cruel. New research reveals that just five minutes of role-playing in virtual environments as either a hero or villain can cause people to reward or punish anonymous strangers.

The latest study involved 194 undergraduates who were randomly assigned to play as Superman, Voldemort, or a circle for five minutes. Afterwards, they were asked to participate in a blind taste test in which they were asked to give either chocolate or chili sauce to future participants.

Participants were told to pour the chosen food item into a plastic dish and that the future participants would consume all of the food provided.

The findings revealed that participants who played Superman gave, on average, nearly twice as much chocolate as chili sauce for the "future participant". People who played Superman also poured significantly more chocolate than those who played as Voldemort or circle.

However, those who played as Voldemort gave nearly twice as much of the spicy chili sauce than they did chocolate, and they administered significantly more chili sauce compared to the other participants.

"These behaviors occur despite modest, equivalent levels of self-reported identification with heroic and villainous avatars, alike," researcher wrote in the study "People are prone to be unaware of the influence of their virtual representations on their behavioral responses."

"In virtual environments, people can freely choose avatars that allow them to opt into or opt out of a certain entity, group, or situation," lead researcher Gunwoo Yoon of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign said in a news release. "Consumers and practitioners should remember that powerful imitative effects can occur when people put on virtual masks."

The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.

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