Their findings suggest people fall for it pretty hard. The cyranoid illusion worked just as well when the 12-year-old boy and the professor, played by Gillespie, switched roles. Subjects thought the man seemed a bit dim for an adult living in Britain -- he botched a question about Margaret Thatcher and was unable to list the country's most recent prime ministers -- but they gave no indication they suspected his answers weren't his own.
On one hand, maybe that's not so surprising. Our brains didn't evolve to deal with people speaking through the body of someone else, notes Jeremy Bailenson, who directs the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford. "Our brains are wired to treat something that looks and acts like a person as an individual person."
But that's increasingly not the case, Bailenson says. "What's changed since times of Milgram is that this identity replacement has become the norm for online interactions." From online games to online dating sites, people act through virtual versions of themselves (or assumed virtual identities) more and more.
This is another area Corti and Gillespie want to explore in future cyranoid research. One experiment, for example, might look at whether people can tell when the person in front of them is being fed lines from a chatbot.
Cyranoids are people who do not speak thoughts originating in their own central nervous system.
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