Can pretending to be Einstein actually make you smarter?
Scientists made a virtual reality Einstein body to see if it changed people's intelligence.
If you want to be the next Albert Einstein, you may want to consider taking your goal literally. Scientists recently ran an experiment to figure out whether stepping into Einstein's virtual reality body could actually make people smarter.
To test this strangest of proposals, the researchers recruited 30 men to take an intelligence test and had them strap on a virtual reality headset and body tracking suit. Half of them got to see themselves as Einstein, while the others were stuck in some regular guy's virtual body.
"Virtual reality can create the illusion of a virtual body to substitute your own, which is called virtual embodiment," explained Mel Slater, a professor at Spain's University of Barcelona who worked on the study. "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."
Not a bad way to step into someone else's shoes. Though Einstein didn't wear socks, so step into his at your own risk. (Photo: Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images)
Basically, when you don a virtual reality suit, you trick your eyes into thinking you are someone else.
"When the person looks down toward their own body, they see the virtual body instead, and when they look toward a virtual mirror, they see a reflection of their virtual body," the scientists wrote.
After the participants pretended to be the famous scientist/regular dude for a bit, the scientists gave them another intelligence test. As it turned out, the folks who tried out being Einstein actually performed better on the test.
So, how on Earth does this work? The scientists don't think that people instantly understand theoretical physics upon looking at a bunch of wild hair in a mirror. But the way they thought about themselves changed.
"Certainly we do not claim that embodiment in a different body, no matter how prestigious and important personality this body represents, could give people access to entirely new knowledge," the scientists write. "However, it could make them more open to acquire such new knowledge."
Here's a clue: the people who had the lowest self-esteem improved the most after dabbling in being Einstein. The scientists think that these guys may have gotten a confidence boost from thinking about themselves as geniuses, which helped them do better on the test.
"It is possible that this technique might help people with low self-esteem to perform better in cognitive tasks, and it could be useful in education," Slater said.
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