Virtual reality is ‘the ultimate empathy machine’, study claims

Virtual reality may soon find uses outside of entertainment.

According to new research, the technology could help people learn to be more empathetic towards others, providing a way to immerse them in unfamiliar experiences that they may not otherwise relate to.

In the study, people who were exposed to situations such as the loss of a job or homelessness in the virtual reality setting ultimately developed longer-lasting compassion towards the issues in real life.

In the study, some participants were shown a seven-minute VR experience called ‘Being Homeless,’ which was developed by Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. Others were given reading tasks or an interactive scenario on the computer

In the study, some participants were shown a seven-minute VR experience called ‘Being Homeless,’ which was developed by Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. Others were given reading tasks or an interactive scenario on the computer

In the study, some participants were shown a seven-minute VR experience called ‘Being Homeless,’ which was developed by Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. Others were given reading tasks or an interactive scenario on the computer

‘Experiences are what define us as humans, so it’s not surprising that an intense experience in VR is more impactful than imagining something,’ said co-author Jeremy Bailenson, a professor of communication at Stanford University.

Researchers conducted two studies, each over the course of two months, with more than 560 participants between the ages of 15 and 88.

The study was designed to assess how VR affects people’s attitudes compared to other types of media.

‘About 10 million headsets have been sold in the US over the past two years,’ said lead author Fernanda Herrera, a graduate student in the Department of Communication.

‘So, many people now have access to VR experiences. But we still don’t know much about how VR affects people.

‘This research is an important step in figuring out how much of an effect this technology can have on people’s level of empathy in the long term.’

Virtual reality may soon find uses outside of entertainment. According to new research, the technology could help people learn to be more empathetic towards others. Stock image

Virtual reality may soon find uses outside of entertainment. According to new research, the technology could help people learn to be more empathetic towards others. Stock image

Virtual reality may soon find uses outside of entertainment. According to new research, the technology could help people learn to be more empathetic towards others. Stock image

In the study, some participants were shown a seven-minute VR experience called ‘Being Homeless,’ which was developed by Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

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Others were given reading tasks or an interactive scenario on the computer.

According to the researchers, the participants who experienced the VR scenario were more likely to maintain positive attitudes toward the homeless and even sign a petition in support of affordable housing.

WHAT IS SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE?

Social intelligence is the ability to manage complex social situations through empathy and the ability to know oneself and others.

It includes characteristics such as taking in others’ perspectives, being adaptable, managing impressions of oneself and adhering to established social norms.

Social intelligence defines our ability to take on complex socialisation, including politics, romance, family relationships, arguments, collaboration and altruism.

While ‘traditional’ intelligence is the ability to acquire knowledge and skill, and is largely determined at birth, experts say that social intelligence is a mostly learned skill built through experience.

‘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,’ Herrera said.

‘And that is an exciting finding.’

The researchers say VR could help to facilitate more meaningful social interactions, and improve people’s understanding and compassion to others in situations that may not be like their own.

‘We tend to think of empathy as something you either have or don’t have,’ said Stanford psychology scholar Jamil Zaki.

‘But lots of studies have demonstrated that empathy isn’t just a trait. It’s something you can work on and turn up or down in different situations.’

 

To be continued

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