Seeing yourself as Einstein may change the way you think

July 9, 2018, Frontiers
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The perception of having Albert Einstein's body may help unlock previously inaccessible mental resources, finds a new study. Following a virtual reality "Einstein" experience, participants were less likely to unconsciously stereotype older people while those with low self-esteem scored better on cognitive tests. Published in Frontiers in Psychology, the study suggests the way our brain perceives our body is surprisingly flexible. The researchers hope the technique will be useful for education.

"Virtual reality can create the illusion of a virtual body to substitute your own, which is called virtual embodiment," says Professor Mel Slater of the University of Barcelona. "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."

Previous research found that virtual embodiment can have striking effects on attitudes and behavior. For example, white people who experienced a virtual black body showed less unconscious stereotyping (called implicit ) of black people.

"We wondered whether virtual embodiment could affect cognition," says Slater. "If we gave someone a recognizable body that represents supreme intelligence, such as that of Albert Einstein, would they perform better on a cognitive task than people given a normal body?"

To find out, the researchers recruited 30 young men to participate in a virtual embodiment experiment. 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 to older people.

The study participants then donned a body-tracking suit and a virtual reality headset. Half experienced a virtual Einstein body and the other half a normal adult body. After completing some exercises in the virtual environment with their new body, they repeated the implicit bias and .

The researchers found that people with low self-esteem performed the cognitive better following the virtual Einstein experience, compared with those who experienced a normal body of someone their own age. Those exposed to the Einstein body also had a reduced implicit bias against older people.

Bias is based on considering someone to be different from yourself. Being in an older body may have subtly changed the participants' attitudes by blurring the distinction between elderly people and themselves.

Similarly, being in the body of someone extremely intelligent may have caused the participants to think about themselves differently, allowing them to unlock that they don't normally access.

Crucially, these cognitive enhancements only occurred in people with low self-esteem. The researchers hypothesize 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.

To further investigate the phenomenon, a larger study with more participants—and including men and women—is needed. However, the results so far suggest that the technique could be useful in education.

"It is possible that this technique might help people with low to perform better in cognitive tasks and it could be useful in education," says Slater.

Explore further: Study shows the influence of immersive virtual reality on racial bias

More information: Domna Banakou et al, Virtually Being Einstein Results in an Improvement in Cognitive Task Performance and a Decrease in Age Bias, Frontiers in Psychology (2018). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00917

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8 comments

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Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jul 09, 2018
How the hell do they know what an "Einstein" body feels like?
humy
not rated yet Jul 09, 2018
People that see themselves as another Einstein invariably have delusional arrogance.
It can be seen from these posts that typically they don't understand the first think about physics but have the delusion that they understand all of it and better than Einstein.
I wouldn't want anything to be done here to foster more such delusion people.
humy
not rated yet Jul 09, 2018
How the hell do they know what an "Einstein" body feels like?

It feels clever but old :P
߃--¹¹
not rated yet Jul 09, 2018
Now consider the following thought experiment;

Mount a laser at the end of a hollow perfectly rigid tube 1 light year long, on earth Turn it on and at the same time rotate the tube for 8 minutes.

The observation will be that the laser light will have gone 93,000,000 miles, or the distance to the sun, while the opposite end of the tube would have rotated 1 light year at the opposite end of the tube, at the same time.

Einstein's Light is rather slow in this analogy, that advanced civilizations offer, in their way of travel thru the Universe, way beyond Earth capability. The rigid tube is condensed into a space faring vehicle, and time and space are quite different than Earthians interpret them.

BF--11
Chief Interactive Psybertronist

gh77
not rated yet Jul 10, 2018
When we read a book or watch a film, there is a tendency to identify with a character, to share the life experiences of that character. This identification is the an extension of the extrapolation capabilities of the mind. Identification with our flow of memories and thoughts gives rise to a sense of self. And this identification is the root of what the author calls visual embodiment. Exposed to enough stimuli, we all can identify with what we perceive as a new persona. Regarding Einstein above, the projection of Einstein's body caused people to identify with what they perceived as what "being Einstein" meant. For someone who was familiar with his intellect, that person would likely feel more intellectually confident. For someone who was not familiar with Einstein, that person would likely be affected by the appearance of the body. The experimenters simply redirected the brain's tendency to "identify a self."
Anonym518498
not rated yet Jul 11, 2018
did taxpayer money fund this nonsense? What a joke
DeProgrammer
not rated yet Jul 11, 2018
The test of implicit bias might be a bit flawed since they didn't set a control for how much time they were allowed to mull over whatever the implicit bias questions were... I mean, the group that experienced normal bodies may act as a control for that, but they're trying to control for something else with the same group. And maybe it doesn't even have to do with "embodiment" so much as simply *seeing* an elderly person before being asked those questions.
savvys84
1 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2018
Now consider the following thought experiment;

Mount a laser at the end of a hollow perfectly rigid tube 1 light year long, on earth Turn it on and at the same time rotate the tube for 8 minutes.

The observation will be that the laser light will have gone 93,000,000 miles, or the distance to the sun, while the opposite end of the tube would have rotated 1 light year at the opposite end of the tube, at the same time.

Einstein's Light is rather slow in this analogy, that advanced civilizations offer, in their way of travel thru the Universe, way beyond Earth capability. The rigid tube is condensed into a space faring vehicle, and time and space are quite different than Earthians interpret them.

BF--11
Chief Interactive Psybertronist


You seem to be onto something there. The trick to instant travel is to nullify time.
CChk this out https://www.scrib...savvys84

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