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Embodying Einstein Can Make You Smarter, New VR Study Shows

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People experiencing Albert Einstein’s body as their own through virtual reality simulation have scored better on cognitive tests, a new study has found.

Don’t be surprised when people start to behave differently in immersive virtual reality that creates the illusion of a virtual body substituting one’s own. It’s called virtual embodiment, and it’s used by the researchers to test subjects with low self-esteem and see how they can increase their cognitive potential.

The Wonders Of Virtual Embodiment

“In an immersive virtual environment, participants can see this new body reflected in a mirror,” Mel Slater, University of Barcelona professor, said in a statement. “And it exactly matches their movements, helping to create a powerful illusion that the virtual body is their own.”

In their research, they wondered: how will giving subjects a recognizable body representing intelligence, such as that of Einstein, affect their performance on cognitive tasks compared to those given a normal body?

According to previous studies, the virtual embodiment can have astounding effects on attitudes as well as behavior. White people experiencing a virtual black body, for instance, exhibited less implicit bias against black people.

To find out, the team recruited 30 young males to participate in the virtual embodiment, prior to which, they completed tests measuring planning and problem solving, implicit bias toward the elderly, and self-esteem. Half of them took on a virtual body resembling Einstein, while the rest embodied a body similar to theirs.

When they retook the tests, subjects with low self-esteem with Einstein’s body in VR scored better on cognitive tests, as well as were less likely to unconsciously stereotype older people.

Unlocking New Mental Resources

The study seemed to suggest that the way the human brain perceives the body can be somewhat flexible. Being in an older body likely changed the Einstein group’s attitudes as it blurred the difference between elderly individuals and themselves.

In a similar way, occupying the body of a supremely intelligent person may have also caused them to “unlock mental resources” they don’t usually access within themselves.

The cognitive improvements took place only in subjects with low self-esteem, suggesting that they get the most benefit by changing their thoughts about themselves.

While a larger study is needed to further look into the phenomenon, the results might help low self-esteem individual in working “smarter” and could be used in education.

The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

A separate study conducted in Norway, however, recently found a worrisome trend in intelligence scores: IQ scores have been dropping since the 1970s.

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