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Bolt, Elena; Ho, Jasmine T.; Roel Lesur, Marte; Soutschek, Alexander ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8438-7721; Tobler, Philippe N. and Lenggenhager, Bigna (July 2021): Effects of a virtual gender swap on social and temporal decision-making. In: Scientific Reports, Vol. 11, No. 1, 15376 [PDF, 1MB]


Mounting evidence has demonstrated that embodied virtual reality, during which physical bodies are replaced with virtual surrogates, can strongly alter cognition and behavior even when the virtual body radically differs from one's own. One particular emergent area of interest is the investigation of how virtual gender swaps can influence choice behaviors. Economic decision-making paradigms have repeatedly shown that women tend to display more prosocial sharing choices than men. To examine whether a virtual gender swap can alter gender-specific differences in prosociality, 48 men and 51 women embodied either a same- or different-gender avatar in immersive virtual reality. In a between-subjects design, we differentiated between specifically social and non-social decision-making by means of a virtually administered interpersonal and intertemporal discounting task, respectively. We hypothesized that a virtual gender swap would elicit social behaviors that stereotypically align with the gender of the avatar. To relate potential effects to changes in self-perception, we also measured implicit and explicit identification with gendered (or gender-typical) traits prior to and following the virtual experience, and used questionnaires that assessed the strength of the illusion. Contrary to our hypothesis, our results show that participants made less prosocial decisions (i.e., became more selfish) in different-gender avatars, independent of their own biological sex. Moreover, women embodying a male avatar in particular were more sensitive to temptations of immediate rewards. Lastly, the manipulation had no effects on implicit and explicit identification with gendered traits. To conclude, while we showed that a virtual gender swap indeed alters decision-making, gender-based expectancies cannot account for all the task-specific interpersonal and intertemporal changes following the virtual gender swap.

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