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In praise of - virtual superpowers.

I'M NOT talking about virtual Americas or North Koreas.

I'm talking about flying aboot like Superman. Only inside your heid. It's possible now, through virtual reality. You know the drill: strap a helmet on your napper and, lo, you've left Acacia Avenue and are stravaiging through steamy jungles or hopping for miles across multi-mooned planets.

Talk of this was all the rage a few years ago, but it has faded away virtually to nothing. No longer. New research reveals simulating superpowers can make us more likely to exhibit altruistic behaviour in the disappointing mess known as real life.

Boffins at Stanford University, Americashire, gave guinea pigs (human, not real, ones; God's sake, we don't want guinea pigs with superpowers) the virtual ability of flight, which enabled them to come to the aid of a child in need.

Afterwards, the researchers asked participants about their experience but added a ruse: they dropped a cup of pens. That introduced the point of the experiment: to see who'd be most eager to pick them up.

Those who'd had the superpower bounded forth to be helpful far more willingly than a comparison group that had only got to fly passenger in a virtual helicopter. The implication is that being a hero makes you feel good which, on a virtuous cycle, makes you act like a hero.

Flight, of course, is just one superpower. Many more are available. Researchers had thought about giving the guinea pigs X-ray vision, but deemed that "a little creepy".

It cannot be beyond the wit of man to become invisible, spray webs aboot the place, or control the weather. And, if Virtualman can travel faster than a speeding bullet, the chances are Realman won't be slow to help his fellows.

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