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Kathy Marshack News

Virtual Reality – Can It Make You More Empathetic?

Sunday, March 17, 2013


I'm sure we would all agree that we would like the world we live in to be more empathetic. Empathy, compassion, and fellow feeling are not as common as they used to be. What can make the world more empathetic and altruistic? A possible solution may lie in the world of virtual reality. 


Stanford University experimented with this theory. They created a virtual reality and gave the participants a mission – deliver insulin to a diabetic child in the city. One group was given super powers like Superman and were able to fly through the city. The other group were passengers in a helicopter. Afterward each participants was interviewed. The interview was a test to gauge empathy. During the interview, the interviewer "accidentally" dropped a cup of 15 pens. The idea behind this is to see how the participant responds. Who would act to assist picking up the pens? The group who pretended to be Superman responded quicker and picked up more pens than the group who rode in the helicopter. In fact a few who rode in the helicopter didn't even respond and did not pick up any pens. 


What does all of this mean? According Jeremy Bailenson, one of the experimenters and Associate Professor of Communication summed it up nicely. He said, "It's very clear that if you design games that are violent, peoples' aggressive behavior increases. If we can identify the mechanism that encourages empathy, then perhaps we can design technology and video games that people will enjoy and that will successfully promote altruistic behavior in the real world." To read more about this study, read the article - Stanford experiment shows that virtual superpowers encourage real-world empathy  


I know many parents are concerned that video games make their children more aggressive. It would be fantastic to see games that actually promoted healthy social interaction. Please visit the Parenting section of my website for more tips. 






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