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Following a virtual reality 'Einstein' experience, a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Barcelona revealed that participants were less likely to unconsciously stereotype older people while those with low self-esteem scored better on cognitive tests.
"Virtual reality can create the illusion of a virtual body to substitute your own, which is called virtual embodiment. In an immersive virtual environment, participants can see this new body reflected in a mirror and it exactly matches their movements, helping to create a powerful illusion that the virtual body is their own," said Mel Slater, a researcher. Earlier, it was found that virtual embodiment can have striking effects on attitudes and behaviour
Prior to the embodiment, the participants completed three tests, a cognitive task to reveal their planning and problem-solving skills; a task to quantify their self-esteem, and one to identify any implicit bias towards older people. This final task was to investigate whether the experience of having an older appearance simulation could change attitudes towards older people. Read: Managing menopause: Improving quality of life and reducing long-term health risks
The researchers found that people with low self-esteem performed the cognitive task better following the virtual Einstein experience. Those exposed to experience also had a reduced implicit bias against older people.
Crucially, these cognitive enhancements only occurred in people with low self-esteem. The researchers hypothesized that those with low self-esteem had the most to gain by changing how they thought about themselves.
Seeing themselves in the body of a respected and intelligent scientist may have enhanced their confidence during the cognitive test.
The findings appeared in the Journal of Frontiers in Psychology.
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