Can imagining that you’re a superhero make you smarter? According to British scientists, the answer is, “Yes.” Yet there are even broader implications for this new study, which was reported over the weekend.
Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire in England conducted an experiment, in which students were asked to take a series of tests designed to improve their mental abilities. Some of the participants were asked to take the tests while wearing Superman t-shirts, while the control group wore regular t-shirts. Amazingly, when the results came in, those subjects who put the “S” on their chest scored an average of 72%, while the control group scored an average of 64%. Similarly, the Kryptonian group felt that they were stronger, better-liked by others, and more self-assured, than did those who wore an everyday garment.
Readers may recall another study I shared with you earlier this year from the University of Illinois, about the impact that playing a heroic character in video games can have on real-world behavior. Gamers who regularly choose to play the superhero in a game were more likely to carry over some of the positive behavior of that character in their daily lives. Those who typically play a villain on the other hand, had a greater tendency to mistreat others in their offline world.
In these studies, what scientists are really examining is how self-visualization can make a profound impact on someone’s personality. People who regularly imagine themselves to be intelligent, healthy, and successful, are actually training a part of their brain to kick in automatically. It’s an old adage to say that, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it,” yet more and more scientific evidence points to the fact that this statement is absolutely true.
The same British researchers in the study referred to above found that depressed women tend to wear the same clothes over and over again, ignoring 90% of their available wardrobe in the process. By engaging in this kind of behavior, which chances are we’ve all seen or engaged in, at one time or another, the depressed reinforce a (false) perception that they don’t have any control over their own lives. On the other end of the scale, I’m sure that many of the men reading this blog have a “lucky” tie hanging in the closet, which they wear on special occasions or critical moments. It gives you a sense of being in control, even though you know it’s just a woven piece of silk, because something about it makes you feel like good things will happen when you wear it.
If you’ve been down in the dumps or are going through a difficult patch, as everyone does, maybe it’s time to start imagining yourself a hero, rather than a zero. No, self-visualization isn’t going to give you superhuman strength or the ability to fly, but then again that’s not really the point. In order for you to ace your next exam or try to understand the Bauhaus movement, you don’t need to go throw on a special t-shirt, let alone the full spandex-and-cape combo out of the comic books.
What studies like these reinforce however, is the idea that how we present ourselves matters, and can make a big difference in achieving what we set out to accomplish. The more we encourage ourselves and others to play the hero rather than the villain – or indeed, the victim – the more likely it is that we will see real-life examples of self-sacrifice, defense of the weak, and the pursuit of knowledge popping up everywhere in our culture. Just imagine, what a truly super society we could have, then.