What VR can do: Making empathy easier


VR eases Empathy:
New research published in eNeuro shows that virtual reality activates brain networks that increases the ability to identify with other people. The technology is sought to become a tool in the treatment of violent offenders to show more empathy to others.

In order to have successful relationships, it is important to understand someone’s point of view. Since this doesn’t come naturally, virtual reality technology can help. A first-person perspective virtual reality experience providing multi-sensory feedback can coax the brain into thinking a virtual body is its own body. This causes the brain to react to virtual events as if they are happening in the real world.

Aline W. de Borst and his colleagues, used functional magnetic resonance imaging to monitor the brain activity of participants while they experienced a virtual reality animation of a man verbally abusing a woman, from the perspective of the woman. Before watching the scene, the participants went through virtual reality training embodied as the woman or as a bystander watching the woman. People experiencing the first-person embodiment identified the woman’s body as their own and demonstrated synchronized brain activity in the personal space and body ownership networks. They also showed strong synchronized activity in parts of the brain processing threat perception when the man got close.

Source: Society for Neuroscience. “Virtual reality makes empathy easier: VR technology increases identification with others by activating key brain networks.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 April 2020.

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