An interesting study by a team of researchers at Israel’s Reichman University has come up with a somewhat surprising finding on the consequences of flirting with a babe in VR. It would appear that such playful teasing with a virtual hottie could actually help to prevent cheating on your partner in real life. The rather ingenious study involved the setting up of three different experiments which each had participants either engaging with a flirty virtual bartender of the same sex as their partner, or a non-flirty bartender. In each experiment, both groups were then tested in some way to measure their respective ‘loyalty’ or attraction to their real life partner. All three experiments established the counterintuitive outcome that those who had engaged with the flirty bartender acted relatively more positive towards their real life partner afterwards.
The website Futurism published a good description of the convulated experiments.
It all starts, a press release explains, when the participant “walks into” a VR bar where they then begin talking to a VR bartender of the same gender of their real-life romantic partner, who either behaved flirtatiously or neutrally.
In the first experiment, those participants were subsequently paired with attractive interviewers following their VR experience who asked them a series of relationship-oriented questions while behaving flirtatiously. The participants were then asked to rate how attractive they found the interviewer — and those who had the flirtatious VR bartender rated the human they met with afterward as less attractive than those who had had neutral interactions.
In the second experiment, participants were paired with an attractive person of their partner’s gender who they thought was a fellow subject, but who in fact was a researcher. The researchers-in-disguise were tasked with asking the participants for help building pyramids out of plastic cups, all the while conveying interest in them. In this part of the study, the researchers found that those who had the flirty VR bartenders spent less time helping the hottie in distress than those who had the disinterested virtual agent.
“In the third experiment, the participants were invited to the laboratory with their partners,” the press release reads. “The couples were separated into different rooms, one of them interacting with the virtual bartender, and the other watched a neutral video.”
The reunited couples were then asked to talk about the ups and downs of their sex lives and then to rate “the extent to which they experience sexual desire towards their partner and towards other people.” In this part, the Reichman researchers found that those who’d flirted with the seductive VR bartender “reported a stronger sexual desire for their partner and a reduced sexual interest in other people” than those who had a neutral virtual interaction.
“The findings of the three studies indicate that it is possible to inoculate people and make them more resistant to threats to their romantic relationship,” Professor Gurit Birnbaum of Reichman’s Baruch Ivcher School of Psychology, who co-wrote the paper and co-directed the study, said in the school’s press release. “This is the first study in the world to illustrate how a virtual reality interaction can improve real-world relationships.”
Of course, whether these findings would hold with more realistic virtual hotties, or a more sexual encounter, is debateable, and the question as to what constitutes ‘cheating’ in VR will no doubt become an ever more live topic.
Published in the journal Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology, it’s certainly an interesting study that joins a handful of ‘positive’ studies on the effects of adult VR on real world behaviour.