Methods ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 02 September 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00943

A method for generating an illusion of backwards time travel using immersive virtual reality—an exploratory study

  • 1Sammy Offer School of Communication, The Interdisciplinary Center IDC Herzliya, Herzliya, Israel
  • 2Event Lab for Neuroscience and Technology, Departament de Personalitat, Facultat de Psicologia, Avaluació i Tractaments Psicològics, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
  • 3Department of Computer Science, University College London, London, UK
  • 4Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats, Barcelona, Spain

We introduce a new method, based on immersive virtual reality (IVR), to give people the illusion of having traveled backwards through time to relive a sequence of events in which they can intervene and change history. The participant had played an important part in events with a tragic outcome—deaths of strangers—by having to choose between saving 5 people or 1. We consider whether the ability to go back through time, and intervene, to possibly avoid all deaths, has an impact on how the participant views such moral dilemmas, and also whether this experience leads to a re-evaluation of past unfortunate events in their own lives. We carried out an exploratory study where in the “Time Travel” condition 16 participants relived these events three times, seeing incarnations of their past selves carrying out the actions that they had previously carried out. In a “Repetition” condition another 16 participants replayed the same situation three times, without any notion of time travel. Our results suggest that those in the Time Travel condition did achieve an illusion of “time travel” provided that they also experienced an illusion of presence in the virtual environment, body ownership, and agency over the virtual body that substituted their own. Time travel produced an increase in guilt feelings about the events that had occurred, and an increase in support of utilitarian behavior as the solution to the moral dilemma. Time travel also produced an increase in implicit morality as judged by an implicit association test. The time travel illusion was associated with a reduction of regret associated with bad decisions in their own lives. The results show that when participants have a third action that they can take to solve the moral dilemma (that does not immediately involve choosing between the 1 and the 5) then they tend to take this option, even though it is useless in solving the dilemma, and actually results in the deaths of a greater number.

Keywords: time travel, virtual reality, body ownership, trolley problem

Citation: Friedman D, Pizarro R, Or-Berkers K, Neyret S, Pan X and Slater M (2014) A method for generating an illusion of backwards time travel using immersive virtual reality—an exploratory study. Front. Psychol. 5:943. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00943

Received: 13 June 2014; Accepted: 06 August 2014;
Published online: 02 September 2014.

Edited by:

James M. Broadway, University of California Santa Barbara, USA

Reviewed by:

Beatrice De Gelder, Louvain University, Belgium
Doug Bowman, Virginia Tech, USA

Copyright © 2014 Friedman, Pizarro, Or-Berkers, Neyret, Pan and Slater. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Mel Slater, Event Lab for Neuroscience and Technology, Departament de Personalitat, Facultat de Psicologia, Avaluació i Tractaments Psicològics, Universitat de Barcelona, Passeig de la Vall d'Hebron 171, 08035 Barcelona, Spain e-mail: melslater@ub.edu

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