Nav: Home

Virtual reality may encourage empathic behavior

October 17, 2018

Virtual Reality could be a useful tool to encourage empathy, helpful behavior, and positive attitudes towards marginalized groups, according to a study published October 17, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Fernanda Herrera from Stanford University, USA, and colleagues.

Empathy--the ability to share and understand others' emotions--has been shown to foster altruistic or helpful behavior. Traditionally, researchers have induced empathy with perspective-taking tasks: asking study participants to imagine what it would be like to be someone else under specific circumstances. The authors of this study investigated whether Virtual Reality systems (VR) could aid such perspective-taking. In their experiments, involving over 500 participants, a control group of participants only read information about homelessness, while other groups completed a perspective-taking task by reading a narrative about homelessness, by experiencing the narrative interactively in 2D on a computer, or by experiencing the narrative using VR.

The authors found that participants in any perspective-taking task self-reported as feeling more empathetic than those who just read information. When asked to sign a petition to support homeless populations, VR participants were also more likely to sign than narrative-reading or computer-based task participants. Participants in the information-reading task also signed the petition as frequently as the VR participants indicating that fact driven interventions can also be successful in promotion of prosocial behaviors. Follow-up surveys also indicated longer-lasting positive effects on empathy, of up to eight weeks, for participants in the VR task than for those in the narrative-reading task.

The authors note that participants who had never used VR before may have been confused or distracted by novelty, affecting results. Also, participant attitudes towards the homeless were not measures prior to the study, and participants may have already had set views on homelessness. Nonetheless, this research suggests that VR could be a useful tool to promote empathy and helpful behaviors.

Herrera adds: "The main takeaway from this research is that taking the perspective of others in virtual reality (VR), in this case the perspective of a homeless person, produces more empathy and prosocial behaviors immediately after the VR experience and better attitudes toward the homeless over the course of two months when compared to a traditional perspective-taking task."
-end-
In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0204494

Citation: Herrera F, Bailenson J, Weisz E, Ogle E, Zaki J (2018) Building long-term empathy: A large-scale comparison of traditional and virtual reality perspective-taking. PLoS ONE 13(10): e0204494. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0204494

Funding: This research was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Grant ID# 72394. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

PLOS

Related Empathy Articles:

Study finds empathy can be detected in people whose brains are at rest
UCLA researchers have found that it is possible to assess a person's ability to feel empathy by studying their brain activity while they are resting rather than while they are engaged in specific tasks.
Siblings of children with intellectual disabilities score high on empathy and closeness
A new Tel Aviv University and University of Haifa study finds that relationships between children and their siblings with intellectual disabilities are more positive than those between typically developing siblings.
Empathy for perpetrators helps explain victim blaming in sexual harassment
Men's empathy for other men who sexually harass women may help explain why they are more likely to blame victims, new research suggests.
Researchers suggest empathy be a factor in medical school admissions
The national norms can help to distinguish between two applicants with similar academic qualifications, and identify students who might need additional educational remedies to bolster their level of empathy.
Diabetes patients experiencing empathy from PCPs have lower risk of mortality
A United Kingdom study designed to examine the association between primary care practitioner empathy and incidence of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality among type 2 diabetes patients found that those patients experiencing greater empathy in the year following their diagnosis saw beneficial long-term clinical outcomes.
Insects need empathy
In February, environmentalists in Germany collected 1.75 million signatures for a 'save the bees law.' Citizens can stop insect declines by halting habitat loss and fragmentation, producing food without pesticides and limiting climate change, say the authors of this Perspectives piece in Science.
Antidepressants can reduce the empathic empathy
Depression is a disorder that often comes along with strong impairments of social functioning.
Autism linked to less empathy in general population -- but that may not be a bad thing
The psychologists behind the research hope their insights can help the autistic community and those around them in adapting support available.
The power of empathy in product development
'Subtle things, such as imagining how someone else would feel, can have a huge impact on creativity in general,' says UConn's Kelly Herd.
Empathy often avoided because of mental effort
Even when feeling empathy for others isn't financially costly or emotionally draining, people will still avoid it because they think empathy requires too much mental effort, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.
More Empathy News and Empathy Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Uncharted
There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#555 Coronavirus
It's everywhere, and it felt disingenuous for us here at Science for the People to avoid it, so here is our episode on Coronavirus. It's ok to give this one a skip if this isn't what you want to listen to right now. Check out the links below for other great podcasts mentioned in the intro. Host Rachelle Saunders gets us up to date on what the Coronavirus is, how it spreads, and what we know and don't know with Dr Jason Kindrachuk, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. And...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.