Study suggests virtual reality is the most effective media for aiding
A new study reveals that virtual reality (VR) could be the best media to boost empathy than others. The research facilitated by a virtual reality experience named “Becoming Homeless” explores how immersive technology affects the level of empathy in people.
In the study, people had an experience of losing their jobs and homes in the VR. These developed a longer-lasting compassion towards the homeless in relation to those who explored other media versions of the virtual reality scenario. Jeremy Bailenson, a professor of communication at Stanford University who is also the co-author of a paper published in PLOS ONE said that it is not surprising that an intense VR experience is more effective than imagining something since experiences define what humans are.
Many enthusiasts of the VR regard the experience as “the ultimate empathy machine” which can influence the relation of people to others in a better way than TV shows, films or novels. Despite the tangible effects, a little research on how exactly it can change people’s attitudes is done.
Millions of people have had a VR experience considering that around 10 million headsets have been sold in just the US in the past two years by virtual reality companies. But a lead author Fernanda Herrera a graduate student in the communication department said they don’t know much how virtual reality affects people.
This then shows the great significance this research has in helping them figure out how much of an effect this technology can have on the empathy levels of people in the long term. Mixed results have been drawn from a past research on small samples, usually made up of college students. Also, as per Herrera, the studies done previously did not consider the long-term (beyond a week) effects of VR on empathy.
The research involved over 560 subjects of age 15 to 88 from at least 8 ethnic backgrounds. In a scenario created by VR, the participants went through a bad situation after losing their jobs, find in an apartment items to sell to pay rent, protect their belongings from a stranger who tries to steal them and even become homeless.
Taking the perspective of others provided in virtual reality produces empathy and prosocial behaviours in people. This was after going through the experience according to Herrera who believes this is an exciting finding. These people certainly had a chance to feel and imagine what it would be like to be in such situations.
The participants who entered into the “Becoming Homeless” virtual reality, as found out by the researchers, we’re more likely to have long-lasting positive attitudes towards the homeless than other people involved in other tasks like reading, interacting with a 2d version of a scenario and other tasks facilitated by other media. The research also found that the same group were more likely to sign a petition in support of affordable housing.
These findings are quite a game changer for most virtual reality companies considering that a second study had a lot of effects on subjects. In this research, 85% of people who experienced the VR condition signed a petition to support affordable housing in comparison to 63% of those who read a narrative.