Can Virtual Reality Increase Our Empathy Levels?

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Can Virtual Reality Increase Our Empathy Levels?

Digital media has been accused of reducing our empathy levels towards others, but is that always the case?

· IoT Zone ·
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Digital media has been accused of reducing our empathy levels towards others, but is that always the case? A recent study from Stanford University suggests not, at least in the case of virtual reality technology. The research suggests that when people were exposed to scenarios such as losing their jobs or homes via virtual reality, their compassion towards people who had actually lost them increased.

VR headsets are on the rise, but to date, they have mostly been used in a gaming context. Advocates believe they can significantly boost our empathy levels by placing us in the shoes of others in a realistic manner. The authors wanted to put this claim to the test.

They conducted a couple of month-long studies with several hundred participants with a wide demographic spread. Some of the participants were shown a seven-minute VR experience, called Becoming Homeless, in which a narrator guides viewers through a number of interactive scenarios that would unfold should they ever lose their jobs.

Other participants were then shown content via other media, including written text and a two-dimensional scenario presented via a computer. The data suggests that those exposed to the VR scenario were more empathetic than those exposed to other forms of media.

“Taking the perspective of others in VR produces more empathy and prosocial behaviors in people immediately after going through the experience and over time in comparison to just imagining what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes,” the researchers say. “And that is an exciting finding.”

Lasting Effect

What’s perhaps most interesting is not only that participants were more likely to show empathy after going through the VR experience, but that these feelings persisted for a prolonged period of time.

“What’s special about this research is that it gives us longitudinal evidence that VR changes attitudes and behaviors of people in a positive way,” the researchers say.

The researchers plan to explore what it is about virtual reality that helps us to develop empathy for others, and whether certain scenarios work better than others. For the time being, however, they believe their work adds to the debate, and even in their own small way have changed how people behave, with many of the participants contacting the researchers to say how the experiment has shifted their mindset and helped them become more involved in their community.

If that alone is the outcome of the research, it’s surely not a bad thing.

empathy, experience, iot, virtual reality, vr

Published at DZone with permission of Adi Gaskell , DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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