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Virtual Reality Experiment Studies Altruism

Altruism is helping others and being concerned for them selflessly even if it results in disadvantage for oneself. Studying such a complex emotion in human beings seems impossible. But researchers made this possible by conducting an experiment using a computer-based environment.

Researchers created a contextually-rich virtual reality. Participants were immersed in this environment to create the experience close to reality. The following is the experiment. Participants are placed inside a building in which fire breaks out. They have to escape from the building. Intense audio-visuals add realism to the situation and induce panic and fear in them. Each participant has a life-energy meter. Towards the end of the escape, participants are made to make a tough choice. Their life meter also indicates low energy. They could either save an injured person stuck under a heavy cabinet or run for the exit.

After the experiment, MRI was conducted on all participants to understand their brain structures. Scientists found correlation between specific areas of the brain and altruistic behaviour.

The experiment showed that 65% of the participants stopped to rescue the injured person risking their own lives, thus, depicting altruism. These participants also depicted the same behaviour on their questionnaire. Scientists found out that these altruistic individuals had larger anterior insula compared to that of non-altruists. Insula is a brain area involved in processing social emotions. This study can help in conducting more research on neurostructural correlations with behaviour.



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