Facilitator: Mark Morton (CTE)
Using XR for Empathy Training
“Empathy consists of the ability to view the world from another person’s perspective combined with an emotional reaction to that perspective, including feelings of concern for others (Davis 1983).” Empathy is also a skill – or perhaps an “aspect of character” – that can be fostered and developed. Empathy can be of benefit in many interpersonal, academic, and professional situations. For example, “medical students with higher levels of empathy show greater clinical competence (Ogle et al. 2013).” However, fostering empathy is often a challenge, especially in academic contexts where cognitive performance tends to be privileged. One type of XR technology – fully immersive Virtual Reality (VR) – presents a solution in that it can be an effective means to foster empathy skills. In fact, it’s become something of a trope in the literature about empathy training to refer to VR as “the ultimate empathy machine” due to its ability to create the perceptual illusion called “embodiment” (Li 2021). Studies have shown that students who are embodied with a tall avatar in a VR simulation behave with greater confidence than those with shorter avatars (Yee and Bailenson (2007). Another study found that engineering students engaged in increased creativity in ideation after being immersed in a VR environment where they were embodied in an avatar resembling an inventor (Guegan et al., 2016). A study from 2013 showed that white students who were embodied in black avatars in a VR environment experienced a decrease in their implicit bias (Peck et al).
In this session of the XR Community of Practice, Mark Morton will provide an overview of why empathy training is important for students in all disciplines, how increased empathy can benefit professional performance, and how VR technologies can foster and augment empathy responses in individuals.
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