Continuing from last week's post, there are not many actual studies in empathy using VR, according to Herrera, who also cites related research from the field of Psychology: “If we imagine being a part of a group, we become more empathetic to that person, but also to that entire group and more empathy leads to an altruistic motivation to help.” She asserts that “VR is good for perspective taking: we can have any experience from any point of view,” since VR works by replacing perceptual input from the real world with perceptual input from the virtual world. She adds: “We can take on different skin tone, become shorter or taller, and we can achieve body transfer and body schema.” She explains: “We start having body cognition, adopting these virtual characteristics into our own. We start thinking of a ‘new self.’” Instead of just being told what someone’s life is like, what their struggles are like, “now we can struggle with them.”
The problems with many empathy studies are typical to the challenges faced in other studies: small sample sizes and/or required college student participation in the studies may skew the results. I hate to end with a teaser, but please come back for part 3 of this series, as I tackle some groundbreaking new research just coming out of Stanford University, research now being conducted by the delightful Fernanda Herrera.