To Fly Or To Be Invisible… What Did People Choose?


What super power would you prefer? To fly or to be invisible?

It’s a question I’ve been casually asking at parties for a couple of years now. Unbeknownst to me, others have also been asking it. In fact, This American Life had an entire episode dedicated to the question!

It turns out to be an age-old debate. There’s a Youtube debate (which I have not watched):



Smosh has a fairly useless breakdown of why flight is better than invisibility (duh). I would think this is fairly obvious to any thinking person. The only applications of invisibility are unethical applications: spying on others, sneaking into places without paying, listening to conversations surreptitiously, and so forth. Moreover, invisibility is only useful in a social context, when there are others present to (not) see you.

On the other hand, flying is always useful, whether or not others are present. And flying is almost always used in an ethical context.

But that’s my opinion.

The realization of invisibility’s innate immorality dates at least as far back as Plato, who wrote about the Ring of Gyges, which makes its wearer invisible. (Sound familiar, all ye Tolkien fans?)

Plato says of he who wears the ring: “No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men.”


Forbes has a breakdown of answers to this question by selected management personalities. They interviewed a very large selection of so-called “leaders”, a convincing majority of whom much preferred to fly.  They concluded that those who prefer to fly are more confident than those who prefer to be invisible.

It’s interesting that Forbes has done this, since I had started my own little informal statistical study.  Here’s what I expected: that men would be more likely to choose flying, while women would be more likely to choose invisibility.

No, this is not because I believe women are more tempted by immoral behaviour, or that men are more confident. Rather, it is my hypothesis that, on average, women are (a) more social than men, and (b) more used to –and thus more eager to avoid– public attention than are men.  Thus, women would be more drawn to the social, rather than the physical, power that invisibility confers, while at the same time craving its social safety.

So I opened a rather unscientific online poll and shared it via Facebook, Twitter, word of mouth, and with all of my classes.  I phrased the question thusly:

Imagine you can have your choice of one of two super powers: flying or invisibility. In both cases, you have control over the power, can turn it on and off at will, and the power does not fatigue you. For the flying power, your maximum speed is that of a 747 plane, and you can carry a maximum of 100 lbs with you (including your clothing). For invisibility, your clothes and shoes will also become invisible, and you are undetectable across the entirety of the light spectrum.
Which one do you choose?

I received 219 responses, three of whom identified their gender as “other”. Those three I removed from the analysis since their sample size is too small for me to do anything meaningful with them.

The mean age of the remaining 216 was 22.5 years, randing from 17 to 54. Most of them (74%) were female, with the women (21.3 mean age) being statistically younger than the men (26.3 mean age; p=0.001).

Funny Pictures of Cats and Kittens

There was no statistically significant difference in mean ages between those who preferred flight vs invisibility (p=0.446):

-mean age of those wanting to fly = 22.9 years
-mean age of those wanting to be invisible = 22.1 years

And there was also no statistically significant difference in gender, with respect to super power preference (p=0.586).

-51.2% of females preferred to fly
-57.4% of males preferred to fly

So what did I find?  First, that word of mouth and social media are not a great way to get a representative sample for doing any meaningful kind of statistical analysis.

And second, my hypothesis appears to be wrong: whether or not you would rather fly or be invisible does not seem to be in any way related to one’s gender.

Mind you, this is a very young sample. I wonder if I expanded the age range of respondents, would a gender effect emerge then?

Well, it’s not like this is real  science.