Virtual Reality can Connect Us to the Real World
Virtual reality (VR) is a great tool for video games and parties, but it can also help us connect and show empathy towards people.
New research from Stanford University found that if people use VR to see what other people go through, it can give them more empathy than most.
The research consisted of two studies, each of which lasted over the course of two months, with more than 560 participants, ages 15 to 88, who represented at least eight ethnic backgrounds.
As part of the research, some participants experienced “Becoming Homeless,” a series of VR simulations of what it would be like to be homeless. In the experience, a narrator guided participants through scenarios that could happen if they lost their jobs. Scenarios ranged from simply choosing items to sell to make rent money to having to sleep on a public bus and protect your belongings from being stolen.
The researchers found that participants who experience “Becoming Homeless” were more likely to have enduring positive attitudes toward the homeless than those participants who read about being homeless or who interacted with a two-dimensional version of the scenario on a desktop computer. Not only were VR participants more empathetic, but they were also more willing to sign a petition in support of affordable housing.
“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,” says lead author Fernanda Herrera.
It’s fascinating to think how VR could complement coaching. For example, if a leader wants to become more empathetic, a VR experience might help accelerate the client’s progress.