In the scope of project 258/20 - In God's shoes: embodying the avatar of the supreme moral authority modulates psychophysiological indices of one's own morality, supported by the BIAL Foundation, Salvatore Aglioti and colleagues recruited a group of 54 volunteers, each of whom embodied three different avatars: one normal, one muscled and one omnipotent (an anthropomorphic representation of the Christian God). When embodying the omnipotent avatar, participants perceived adverse events as less threatening to their safety and thought they had more physical abilities, even when comparing to the muscled avatar. The authors concluded that the God-avatar may exert an influence on people’s perception of their own limits and capabilities. More information available in the article Embodying the avatar of an omnipotent agent modulates the perception of one’s own abilities and enhances feelings of invulnerability, published in Scientific Reports.
Immersive virtual reality can give people the illusion of owning artificial bodies (i.e., avatars) and controlling their actions. Tellingly, people appear to adhere to the newly embodied entities not just on the basis of physical traits but also behaving accordingly with the hallmarks of the represented characters. In two studies we pushed the limits of this process by testing if one’s own sense of power could be affected by embodying the anthropomorphic representation of the Christian God, that is considered an omnipotent entity. A human Muscled and a Normotype avatar were used as controls. Results showed that participants embodying the God-avatar: (i) reacted to a threatening event compromising their physical safety by exhibiting a lower skin conductance response and heart rate deceleration compared to the Normotype-control avatar (Study 1); (ii) estimated they had more physical abilities compared to both the Normotype-control and the Muscled-control avatars (Study 2). Taken together, our findings suggest that embodying an omnipotent agent may exert an influence on people’s perception of their own limits and capabilities, nourishing feelings of physical invulnerability and strength. Our study indicates that effectively embodying virtual role models may boost achievements and have translational implications in the field of empowerment.