The Self-Fulfilling Delusion of Acting like a Superhero


By Peter Weber

It turns out that it doesn't take all that much to turn a mere mortal into a superhero, of sorts. "All you have to do is lift your arms above your head and take flight," says Tom Jacobs at the Pacific Standard. If that sounds like a tall order, it's actually "surprisingly simple — in virtual reality." In a new study in the journal PLoS One, Stanford University researchers show that giving people Superman-like powers in a 3-D simulation makes them more likely to lend a helping hand in real life.

Here's how the experiment worked: Psychologist Robin Rosenberg, who writes about the psychology of superheroism; Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab; and graduate student Shawnee Baughman tapped 30 male and 30 female students, then suited them up in a virtual reality helmet. Half the students were given the power to fly over a foggy city the way Superman does — controlling their flight with their arms (watch the simulation below) — while the other half were transported through the city as a passenger in a virtual helicopter. Afterward, each student was told to sit while a lab assistant put away the VR equipment, and then "accidentally" knocked over a jar of 15 pens. The virtual fliers were quicker to help pick up pens and picked up more of them than the virtual passengers, and all six students who didn't help at all were from the passenger group. There was no notable difference between the fliers who were given a mission to deliver insulin to a lost diabetic child and those who were told to just explore the city.

"The researchers never mentioned the word 'superhero' or the prefix 'super-' during the experiment," says Eryn Brown at The Los Angeles Times. So what explains the increase in altruism? The theory, the scientists say, is that "embodying the ability to fly in virtual reality primes concepts and stereotypes related to superheroes in general or to Superman in particular, and thus facilitates subsequent helping behavior in the real world." Their fallback theory? The fliers were simply more engaged to act than the passengers because they had been active participants in the simulation rather than passive observers. There is ample room for follow-up studies, the authors note, such as whether longer virtual super-flying makes people more helpful, or whether embodying other superheroes has a similar effect. Well, Brown says, as the mother of a 3-year-old who "refuses to wear his glasses because 'Wolverine doesn't wear glasses'" and "chases our cat around the house, fists flying, screaming, 'BATMAN!'":

Personally, I'd like to learn more about embodiments of, say, Wolverine or Batman, especially those facilitated through lower-tech tools — outstretched tiny fingers imitating claws, a much-loved nylon costume with faux muscles. We have some toys at home that need tidying. [Los Angeles Times]

Of course, as Spider-Man famously learned, with great power comes great responsibility. Before this virtual-reality study, other research suggested that computer and console games that reward players for being helpful lead to actual good deeds, and if the Stanford research pans out, the obvious corollary — especially given current events — is whether playing violent first-person-shooter video games makes people more prone to act like villains. 

A new report from Taiwan does show that "being an active participant in a violent virtual-reality experience does seem to inspire aggression, at least to a degree," says the Pacific Standard's Jacobs. But "there is no scientific evidence linking video games to violence," says Jason Schreier at Kotaku. So it's darkly comic to hear real-life Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) make this head-smacking statement to MSNBC on Wednesday: "I think video games is [sic] a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people."

That kind of statement may be over the top, but virtual-reality sessions are "intense," Stanford's Jeremy Bailenson tells Discovery News, and "they stay with you after you leave virtual reality. They change your behavior in the physical world." Virtual reality is "a technology that can be used for good or ill, and I'd love to see it used for good," agrees Robin Rosenberg.

Let's conclude, says Nic Halverson at Discovery News, "in a manner not unlike that of a comic book's final panel, where our superhero delivers one final thought meant to resonate within us all." Except here, the last word of advice goes to Bailenson: "It's up to us to build and really think about the virtual experiences we use as consumers and give to our children."

Warner Bros.
Pop Culture
Jack Torrance's Corduroy Jacket from The Shining Can Be Yours (If You've Got $12,000 to Spare)
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy … but at least he's stylish. In a 60-year career full of memorable performances, Jack Nicholson's role in The Shining as Jack Torrance—the husband, father, and blocked writer who convinces his family to move to an empty ski resort for the winter so that he can finally finish writing the great American novel, then slowly descends into madness—remains one of his most iconic, and terrifying, characters. Now, via Italian auction house Aste Bolaffi, director Stanley Kubrick's former assistant and longtime friend Emilio D'Alessandro is giving fans of the brilliantly nuanced psychological drama the chance to own a piece of the movie's history, including the burgundy corduroy jacket that Nicholson wore throughout the movie.

According to the item's listing, the jacket was chosen by Oscar-winning costume designer Milena Canonero "after Jack Nicholson insisted it should be worn by his character, Jack Torrance, and a small number of it were made for the shooting of the film." It's a perfect accessory for a variety of activities, including shooting the breeze with a cocktail-serving ghost or chasing your family through a hedge maze in the middle of a snowstorm. Just be ready to pay a pretty penny for it: the bidding starts at €10,000, or just north of $12,000.

The jacket is one of many pieces of original Kubrick memorabilia going up for sale: props from A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut, and Full Metal Jacket are among the other items up for grabs (for the right price), as is a rare cut of The Shining featuring a never-released scene. "These cuts, given by Kubrick to D'Alessandro, are particularly rare because the director notoriously burned all the leftovers at the conclusion of the editing," according to the listing.

You can browse the entire auction catalog, here.

[h/t IndieWire]

5 Things We Know About Deadpool 2

After Deadpool pocketed more than $750 million worldwide in its theatrical run, a sequel was put on the fast track by Fox to capitalize on the original's momentum. It's a much different position to be in for a would-be franchise that was stuck in development hell for a decade, and with Deadpool 2's May 18, 2018 release date looming, the slow trickle of information is going to start picking up speed—beginning with the trailer, which just dropped. Though most of the movie is still under wraps, here's what we know so far about the next Deadpool.


The tendency with comic book movie sequels is to keep cramming more characters in until the main hero becomes a supporting role. While Deadpool 2 is set to expand the cast from the first film with the addition of Domino (Zazie Beetz), the return of Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, and the formation of X-Force, writer Rhett Reese is adamant about still making sure it's a Deadpool movie.

"Yeah, it’ll be a solo movie," Reese told Deadline. "It’ll be populated with a lot of characters, but it is still Deadpool’s movie, this next one."


Fans have been waiting for Cable to come to theaters ever since the first X-Men movie debuted in 2000, but up until now, the silver-haired time traveler has been a forgotten man. Thankfully, that will change with Deadpool 2, and he'll be played by Josh Brolin, who is also making another superhero movie appearance in 2018 as the villain Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. In the comics, Cable and Deadpool are frequent partners—they even had their own team-up series a few years back—and that dynamic will play out in the sequel. The characters are so intertwined, there were talks of possibly having him in the original.

"It’s a world that’s so rich and we always thought Cable should be in the sequel," Reese told Deadline. "There was always debate whether to put him in the original, and it felt like we needed to set up Deadpool and create his world first, and then bring those characters into his world in the next one."

Cable is actually the son of X-Men member Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey named Madelyne Pryor (that's probably the least confusing thing about him, to be honest). While the movie might not deal with all that history, expect Cable to still play a big role in the story.


Although Deadpool grossed more than $750 million worldwide and was a critical success, it still wasn't enough to keep original director Tim Miller around for the sequel. Miller recently came out and said he left over concerns that the sequel would become too expensive and stylized. Instead, Deadpool 2 will be helmed by John Wick (2014) director David Leitch. Despite the creative shuffling, the sequel will still feature star Ryan Reynolds and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.

“He’s just a guy who’s so muscular with his action," Reynolds told Entertainment Weekly of Leitch's hiring. "One of the things that David Leitch does that very few filmmakers can do these days is they can make a movie on an ultra tight minimal budget look like it was shot for 10 to 15 times what it cost,"


No, this won't be the title of the movie when it hits theaters, but the working title for Deadpool 2 while it was in production was, appropriately, Love Machine.


The natural instinct for any studio is to make the sequel to a hit film even bigger. More money for special effects, more action scenes, more everything. That's not the direction Deadpool 2 is likely heading in, though, despite Miller's fears. As producer Simon Kinberg explained, it's about keeping the unique tone and feel of the original intact.

"That’s the biggest mandate going into on the second film: to not make it bigger," Kinberg told Entertainment Weekly. "We have to resist the temptation to make it bigger in scale and scope, which is normally what you do when you have a surprise hit movie."


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