Extended reality (XR) – augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) – entered the hype in 2021. Game developers had a field day, and industrial companies are anticipating a period of increased productivity, while worried journalists fear the day when fake news may become indistinguishable from genuine images.
But XR also opens the door to conveying hopes, fears and emotions in a visceral and accessible way. The ability to elicit empathy will not only be used in training professionals who need such skills, but also in providing civil cause activists with new tools to create understanding and support.
The use of new types of media to raise awareness of social issues is not new. What’s new is the use of augmented reality and virtual reality to develop narratives, whereas in the past video games offered the closest approach to immersive storytelling. In October 2016, when the IndieCade Foundation’s IndieCade Festival in Los Angeles showcased indie video games, developers showcased a lineup of games highlighting social issues.
Navid Khonsari Featured Revolution of 1979: Black Friday, in which players assume the role of a photojournalist during the Iranian revolution. Khonsari lived in Iran as a child and he even included some of his family’s home movies from that period in the video game. Cynthia Miller featured We are chicago, which allows players to experience the challenges and social issues faced by the residents of Chicago’s Southside. And Simone Castagna presented blue cat, in which the player represents a cat who experiences the owner’s struggle with depression. The game attempts to make the impact of depression understandable to players.
Also in 2016, the organization Animal Equality presented the 360 degree experience at the Sundance Film Festival factory farm, which elicits viewers’ empathy for animals on factory farms and slaughterhouses. And just recently, Danny Pimentel, an assistant professor of immersive psychology at the University of Oregon, looked at the “effects of wildlife embodiment in virtual reality on conservation behaviors” in an article by June 2022 in Scientific reports. In particular, he wanted to understand how virtual reality could positively affect “bland compassion” for loggerhead sea turtles.
The disappearance of compassion is the decrease in empathy that people feel as the number of people and animals affected increases. “The disappearance of compassion can be explained, in part, by the differential treatment of large and small-scale threats,” explains Pimentel. “Forming empathetic bonds with unfamiliar masses is difficult compared to singular victims.”
Researchers provided study participants with VR headsets to experience a turtle’s journey from hatch to adult. The participants “became” turtles, with fins instead of arms. They encountered vessels and fishing gear and had to avoid being entangled or killed. Pimentel adds, “The embodiment of non-human bodies is a powerful tool environmental storytellers can use.” The experience increased participants’ compassion for animals.
It is only natural that these new XR capabilities are used to familiarize users with cultural and societal contexts. In 2015, USC Annenberg professor Robert Hernandez created Jovrnalism to empower students to tell stories with new technology in an immersive way. For example, stories about South Korea let viewers become part of the culture.
Understand the fears, needs and hopes of others
The group also uses augmented reality and virtual reality to allow users to understand the fears, needs and hopes of others in a visceral way. For example, a recent project collected the experiences of witnesses to the 1992 Los Angeles riots and then used XR technologies to create stories in remembrance of the 30th anniversary of the riots.
In another 2018 project, a group of college students spoke to homeless people and shot augmented reality footage to convey their living conditions. For example, Jennifer Flores, who lives in Echo Park in Los Angeles, guides viewers around her tent. In doing so, viewers begin to understand the challenges she faces on a daily basis, such as keeping food cold and cell phones charged without access to electricity.
Government authorities also see benefits of XR in training staff with a particular focus on emotional aspects. For example, the US military uses photorealistic 3D avatars to convey the impact of hazing and sexual assault in the military. Voice recognition allows session participants to interact with captured conversations of real victims that avatars visualize. The Digital Survivor of Sexual Assault Project uses the latest technology to educate and educate US Army personnel about the horrific realities of sexual assault.
The USC Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California has a similar project to archive interviews with Holocaust survivors to continue their stories. The foundation, which director Steven Spielberg founded in 1994, now captures the stories in 3D renderings to create a connection between interviewees and audiences that aims to understand the horrors survivors experienced and the feelings they felt. had and still have.
US police departments have also started using virtual reality as an educational tool, allowing officers to train their behavior in dangerous situations safely. Cost benefits are another benefit of technology, but virtual reality can also help officers interact with confused or frustrated citizens or with victims who are hurting or feeling loss.
A recent webinar, Beyond shooting without shooting: the role of virtual reality in police training and community policing, place participants in a variety of situations to allow them to better understand people’s behavior. One of the presenters, Anna Queiroz, an associate professor at the Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil, described the benefits of virtual reality in helping officers understand the situations homeless people face.
Police Chief David Lash shared his first virtual reality experience walking a 50-story board. He noted that his fear of heights transferred into the virtual environment, allowing him to understand how he would react in such a situation. Virtual reality allows users to repeat the same situation or adjust situations to learn how to correct their mistakes over time, but it also gives them a better idea of how others might feel or experience in certain circumstances or situations. .
For a long time, law enforcement agencies have been faced with the problem of reacting appropriately to varied situations. Misconduct and violent behavior by officers is a recurring theme in the media and in the courts. But future business leaders can also learn to better understand the potential impact they could have on segments of the population. Vijay Govindarajan, Professor of International Business at Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business, says, “Today’s best and brightest leaders are those who will build an inclusive, responsible and compassionate capitalist society.
Govindarajan used virtual reality to help his students understand the need to incorporate social thinking into their approach to business. He adds: “To humanize companies is to understand that the seven billion inhabitants of planet Earth have the same needs and the same desires. Yet some people’s needs and desires are met, while others are not.
He used technology to examine the health and well-being issues faced by Indian families who live below the poverty line. The objective was to enable its students to develop solutions to help this group of consumers. More than 30 films in VR360, as well as regular formats, allowed students to be part of the environment of Indian families.
Empathy training also plays a role in other professions, such as for medical nurses. Although nurses constantly encounter emotionally difficult situations, practitioners find that there is a difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is the act of feeling sorry for a medical situation or outcome; empathy allows nurses to accept what patients are feeling.
Sympathy and empathy
While sympathy represents acknowledgment of a medical condition and is part of professional conduct for nurses, empathy often requires training, “and that’s what we do with virtual reality,” says illustrator Lynsey Steinberg. medical certified at the University of Augusta. Elena Prendergast, assistant professor of nursing at Augusta University College of Nursing, adds, “What we thought was the most important thing was to provide a safe environment where students could be immersed in an end-of-life experience, but in a safe place. .”
The training focused not only on the patients themselves, but also on family members trying to come to terms with their impending loss.
XR can find use in eliciting, and even forming, empathy. Many applications will benefit from features capable of creating deep immersive experiences. But the field is still in its infancy and many questions remain. Practitioners distinguish between emotional, cognitive, and compassionate empathy. There is even a distinction between adopting the perspective of “being someone” and “being in someone else’s shoes”.
Some researchers claim that virtual reality can only be used to improve certain types of empathy, but not others. Therefore, understanding what kind of empathy is central to an app and how to measure improvements is crucial. Next, VR app developers will need to consider the type of VR equipment and degrees of immersion.
For example, creating overly realistic virtual situations can actually induce stress in app users. So questions remain – and some concerns exist. But virtual environments are a promising approach to sparking and enhancing understanding of others’ challenges and obstacles.
Martin Schwirn is the author of Small Data, Big Disruptions: How to Spot Signals of Change and Manage Uncertainty (ISBN 9781632651921). He is also Senior Advisor, Strategic Foresight at Business Finland, helping startups and incumbents find their position in the market of tomorrow.
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