Does Being Superman in Virtual Reality Make You Stronger? (2016)
Studies into virtual reality (VR) and embodied cognition have previously shown that VR can change one’s behavior. For example, it could make you temporarily "more social" or less racially biased.
Based on these prior results, student Maarten Lodewijk wanted to know whether VR can also make you physically stronger. More specifically, he wanted to know whether the “super strength” commonly associated with superheroes can be induced in (normal) males by using virtual reality. Maarten hypothesized that embodiment in the body of Superman through VR leads to increased physical exertion capabilities.
Average males versus Superman
To test this, he made normal men experience two different bodies in virtual reality: one body was that of the average Dutch male (according to the national bureau of statistics), the other was the body of Superman (you know, from the planet Krypton). After each of these two conditions, the participants had to guess how long they could do a "planking exercise", and then do that exercise. In this way, Maarten hoped to show that after being Superman in VR, participants became physically stronger. His results did not find proof of this idea, but showed that the increase in strength was greater for participants who felt more immersed in VR.
This project illustrates how students build their own research projects on personal questions that they have after reading about scientific studies by others. Interestingly, the second supervisor of this work was none other that Robin S. Rosenberg, author of a famous study about superheroes and virtual reality.