(This question goes more in depth from a previous question.)

Imagine This:

  1. The "Black Box" is a mind vault for a few humans who created it, the humans wanting to survive a nuclear war happening on Earth.
  2. A child who grew up with her mind in the vault has known pain, this is because her parents wanted her to know the feeling when their minds are later transported to mindless bodies. She's felt small things because her parents didn't want to hurt her.

What would the effects be on the child if it's never truly known the consequences of getting hurt? (The child has always healed almost immediately after feeling pain because her parents feel terrible after inflicting the pain.)
When she gets transported to her mindless body, how will she react when she gets injured? Because she's been in the Black Box setting her whole life, how will she adjust to a world recovered from a nuclear attack?

  • $\begingroup$ I think you mean Psychological so I've changed the title to that. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 21:26
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ How does this differ from the ordinary experience of the majority of kids growing up in the more affluent parts of western society? $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ Besides maybe being less risk averse, I’d expect this kid to be fine other than some struggle adjusting to a new world. $\endgroup$
    – Pleiades
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 2:43

6 Answers 6


Psychology isn't actually a hard science

I am not obtrusively trying to give you a non-answer, but psychology is not like chemistry or physics where you can pretty much know that if you do A to B then C will reliably and verifiably happen every time. Psychology is a combined product of genetics, parental behavior, childhood environment, culture, and is also subject to the interpretation of and the psychological reaction of the evaluating party. There are people who were beaten and horribly abused emotionally every day of their lives who grow up into perfectly functional and well-adjusted people, there are kids from wealthy well to do sedate and supportive families who will randomly decide to start shooting meth and mutilating cats at age 25. In psychology, we cannot look at any one thing and say "yup, you spanked yer kid too much and laughed at their Halloween costume when they were 5 so now they're going to have a midget fetish." Psychology just can't do that, it can observe trends and try to isolate factors that seem to have a greater influence over certain behaviors, but nobody on this planet can with any certainty tell you how a person is going to psychologically react to anything.

A wonderful example of these experiments in using psychological warfare. The idea was for a device that dispersed a gas that smelled bad enough to chase rioters away without the harsh and violent effects of teargas. It failed because people's idea of what smells bad is not a fixed thing. People from Japan found the dead fish formula to smell delicious, people from Paupau New Guinea were repulsed by the smell of baking bread, people from India only found the scent of raw sewage mildly annoying, etc etc. What the tests ended up confirming was that you cannot predict how everyone will react to anything.

So in summary, there is no way to answer your question scientifically. Your character can react to this circumstance however you wish to write them doing so.



Your child can learn to be empathetic growing up in the box. Then she can be empathetic with herself.

Theres no crying in baseball https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empathy what a great photo.

In empathy we feel what we believe are the emotions of another, which makes it both affective and cognitive by most psychologists. In this sense, arousal and empathy promote prosocial behavior as we accommodate each other to feel similar emotions. For social beings, negotiating interpersonal decisions is as important to survival as being able to navigate the physical landscape. Emotions motivate individual behavior that aids in solving communal challenges as well as guiding group decisions about social exchange. Additionally, recent research has shown individuals who report regular experiences of gratitude engage more frequently in prosocial behaviors. Positive emotions like empathy or gratitude are linked to a more positive continual state and these people are far more likely to help others than those not experiencing a positive emotional state.

In the box, the adults construct what they hope will be a lifelike world for the kids who grow up there. Kids there learn empathy for the virtual people whose emotions they share, even though they do not share the physical sensations. A young child who has never been stung by a bee can comfort and shed tears for a playmate who does get stung by a bee. She recognizes the emotions as like her own. Likewise your girl recognizes the emotions of the virtual people as like her own and feels empathy with them.

This is such a cool scifi premise. Your protagonist will be surprised by the physical sensations she has barely experienced but we run into surprises like that our whole lives. The cool thing will be her empathy, which is unchanged over the transition from virtual to real. Earlier in the story you have shown her to have that ability. Then she uses it with herself - her own bodily self of blood and bone which seems like a stranger, but which has characteristics familiar to her from her life before, and with which she can empathize.


There is a compelling argument that we have created (or are at least in the process of creating) such a world as this now.

Many societies have now banned corporal punishment in schools and have active programs to address bullying and the like in both an online and school environment. Imagine (if you will) that a specific child exists in a perfectly monitored environment and as such, does not get smacked for a transgression but is given some other non-physical form of punishment. Also, bullies are sanctioned for their behaviour before it escalates to physical violence, and as such neither the child who misbehaves OR the bully feel the consequence of their actions in a controlled environment.

TCAT117 is essentially correct in that there is no hard and fast rule that will tell you what's going to happen in every case, but there are some broad personality types from which we can extrapolate.

For one, the Bully (thinking that he can now get away with his behaviour as an adult and with monitoring not as strict), walks into a bar, picks on the wrong guy and gets beaten to within an inch of his life by that guy's gang.

The misbehaver pretty much ignores the rules of society and walks into traffic. Truck V Human; the human normally gets the silver medal in such scenarios.

I want to stress that this is not a missive extolling the virtues corporal punishment OR letting bullies get away with their behaviour; what I'm saying though is that the reason why schools are a controlled environment is so that children can test their boundaries and get hurt in a way that ensures nothing permanent happens to them in their formative years.

Humans learn by action / stimulus / response pairing. What your scenario (and my hypothetical hyper-vigilant school) both have in common is that remove the stimulus (consequences) of a poor choice. That means that when a child chooses to act in a particular manner, they don't learn what the real world does in response. When they 'grow up' and get put into organic bodies for the first time, THAT'S when they start to learn. The problem there is that by then, their formative years are over, habits from their online existence are already set and the consequences are more severe because their environment is no longer so tightly monitored or controlled.

Let's not mince words; some choices in the new (real) environment will be fatal. Some of those choices could have been avoided if the lessons had been learnt earlier. BUT, everyone will be in the same boat. You'll end up with a society where everyone of a certain age will possess the same shortfall of experience and society will adapt to cater for that.

This is actually now happening in reverse in many advanced economies. Since women have been actively welcomed into the workforce in many countries, child care has become an industry. In Australia, it's a very tightly regulated industry that incorporates early learning / education. In practice, this means that students are entering school far better prepared than previous generations, and children of stay-at-home parents (either mother OR father) are actually at a disadvantage. Many single income families in Australia now actually still send their children to childcare part time before their school years so they pick up the social and learning skills that are being taken for granted in their first years of school.

Ultimately, what you're describing is the point at which experience becomes a bigger factor in learning and development. Today, it starts to happen in child care; in your world, it can be as minds enter the biological world. Either way, if the majority of people start to gain experience at the same time, society adapts to cater for the expectations an increase in (or lack of) experience implies.


I can't say much about her psychology, but there are going to be physical effects on her body. How she copes with these are going to largely be based on how much she's been trained and educated to cope. And how much of that training has been realistic (e.g. she practiced first aid in stressful virtual reality simulations) or academic (e.g. she sat in a calm, peaceful library and read a book about first aid).

For instance:

  1. Minor cuts and scrapes. Not life threatening, but if she doesn't know that she shouldn't scratch and poke at them, they could get infected. Which can mean anything from just a bit inflamed and itchy to life threatening sepsis and gangrene. (Does she have soap, antiseptic/disinfectant and antibiotics?)
  2. Headaches. If you get one because of a bump on the head, you can see cause and effect. But if the source is stress or something she ate or the first symptom of a cold, then she might think Something is wrong with my brain! And start worrying about brain tumours or that her mind hasn't downloaded properly into the body and is unravelling.
  3. Bad injuries can cause her body to go into shock.

  4. Stuff that hurts and gives her a fright (bitten by dog, fall off a ladder, spill hot coffee on herself) will also cause an adrenaline surge. Her heart rate will go up, and she'll get the Fight, Flight or Freeze response. If she has never experienced a pounding heart and increased breathing rate, she may escalate herself into a full blown panic attack.

  5. Bruises. They're ugly, they last for ages and they go weird colours. That one was red, then it went purple and now it's an icky yellow colour. Is that normal? I'd better go to the doctor to ask!
  6. Insect bites. She didn't notice the bites but she's woken up with these itchy red spots. Scratching them makes them worse. Oh noes! I must have some terrible disease like measles or chickenpox.
  7. Muscle aches. She may not know you get stiff and sore after unaccustomed exercise. It's so unfair! Helping Mum to carry that sofa up the stairs didn't hurt at the time.
  8. Everyone's had some ache or pain that was bad enough to make it difficult to sleep. If she's never experienced pain, then a minor thing that you or I could ignore may keep her wake. After all, her whole life experience is telling her the pain hanging around is not normal.

I hope she's not a hypochondriac! :-) She might act like a hypochondriac or someone suffering from man flu until she's used to what is 'normal'.


I see two possibilities here. It partly depends on how old the child is when their mind is transported to a physical body.

  1. The child does not understand that in the physical world they may experience pain greater than what they experienced in the virtual one. In that case I'd expect them to be initially extremely reckless with both their own and other people's safety. Setting people on fire is fun and is no big deal - it hardly hurts, because nothing does. However as they experience the physical world they will quickly adjust their behavior.

  2. They do have some understanding that things are different in the physical world. In that case they may be the exact opposite - extremely cautious and risk-averse with both their own safety and others. In this case it may be harder for them to learn that pain is not quite as bad as they fear it to be, if they never experience it.


These children would likely be highly empathetic and kind to a fault

Studies have shown that people have varying political leanings based on how they think. These studies also show that conservatives generally have a stronger fear reaction than liberals.

And this setup would likely mean that those affected have a massively reduced fear reaction to things since it doesn't occur to them that they might get hurt.

The end result is that they'd be much less risk-averse than some, and thus much more willing to dive head-first into a fire to save someone. Fortunately, the people here expose their children to at least some pain, so they do know what it is and that it should probably be avoided, so they won't be completely suicidal.

And this lack of fear on their part would mean there's not much holding back their empathy. I, as a person who generally doesn't get scared, have personal experience with this; I often find things such as spiders cute while others find them terrifying, and I am a big fan of showing empathy and compassion to others. I imagine that this would show up in, and even be amplified by, the children not suffering any sort of pain. They'd be perfectly willing to risk life and limb for others, be calm when everyone else is panicking, and consider things like tigers, lions, and rattlesnakes to be pretty cute.


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