Virtual reality may soon find uses outside of entertainment. According to new research, the technology could help people learn to be more empathetic towards others, providing a way to immerse them in unfamiliar experiences that they may not otherwise relate to. In the study, people who were exposed to situations such as the loss of a job or homelessness in the virtual reality setting ultimately developed longer-lasting compassion towards the issues in real life. In the study, some participants were shown a seven-minute VR experience called'Being Homeless,' which was developed by Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab. 'Experiences are what define us as humans, so it's not surprising that an intense experience in VR is more impactful than imagining something,' said co-author Jeremy Bailenson, a professor of communication at Stanford University.
Sign up for the CommonHealth newsletter to receive a weekly digest of WBUR's best health, medicine and science coverage. You wait in the sterile purgatory of your oncologist's office, between your spouse and your daughter, for the doctor to give you the verdict on your latest scans. "I'm afraid it's not good news," she says quietly, hands clasped. Your lung cancer has grown despite your recent chemotherapy. Surgery, chemo and other treatments, she tells you, will likely only make you sicker.
File photo: A woman tries on earphones and a headset used for virtual reality at the Venice Virtual Reality a competition during 74th Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, August 29, 2017. Virtual reality can make humans more understanding to realities different from their own, according to a new study. Research participants who tried out a VR experience about losing your job and becoming homeless showed stronger and longer-lasting empathic attitudes toward the homeless versus those who just read an article about homelessness. The findings were recently published in PLOS ONE. "Experiences are what define us as humans," Jeremy Bailenson, a co-author of the paper, said in a statement.
Here's a science fiction premise you've probably heard before: a person encounters a shadowy company that sells hyper-realistic virtual experiences. They're put into an incredibly vivid simulated reality through some kind of brainwave helmet or injected drug. Then something goes wrong and the protagonist discovers -- say it with me now -- that the experience isn't virtual at all. The new film Empathy, Inc. is nominally one of these stories. Written by author Mark Leidner and directed by Yedidya Gorsetman, the film premiered at the Cinepocalypse festival in 2018, and it's getting a wider theatrical release this week.
Since the dawn of modern business, the conference room has typically been a welcoming environment for people like me (straight, white, male), but at this very moment, I'm not feeling it. In fact, as I scan the room to read the faces of the people seated around me at the long table--four women with diverse backgrounds and ages--I'm greeted with a menu of microaggression, including eye rolls, side glances and dismissive waves of the hand, almost as if I'm emitting a foul odor that offends them. As the meeting progresses--at one point, the women are openly discussing lunch plans that don't include me--I feel my palms pool with sweat as my pulse quickens. I notice my breathing is becoming labored even though I'm barely moving my body, save for the occasional and uncomfortable shift in my chair. I try to keep up with the meeting's topics, but it quickly becomes apparent that, if this conversation is a highway, then my colleagues have closed off every on ramp to me.