If you could walk in someone else's shoes would it help you understand them better? Thanks to virtual reality (VR), you now can – virtually.⁠ ⁠ New evidence shows that VR could be used to better understand other people’s life scenarios.

For example:⁠ ⁠

  • VR could allow you to see what life might be like for a homeless person, the elderly or people with disabilities ⁠
  • VR can transport you to other countries and cultures, or help you understand what ageism or racism might feel like⁠
  • It might even help medical professionals cultivate greater empathy for their patients

Jeremy Bailenson, a Stanford University professor and founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, believes there are many use cases for VR technology. This includes diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training; Bailenson says VR might be a better approach to more traditional DEI methodology, which usually involves reading about case studies and trying to imagine what other people experience.⁠ ⁠

And some organizations are already utilizing it:⁠ Walmart has already implemented VR technology training, and the NFL is developing a simulator designed to help scouts identify racial or sexual bias. ⁠ ⁠

The early results are promising: studies show a consistent uptick in empathic behavior following this type of VR experience (though it’s not 100% clear how long this empathetic boost lasts).⁠ ⁠

Reading about VR empathy experiences got us wondering … ⁠ ⁠

 ?  Is there something wrong (or ironic) about using technology – rather than in-person interaction – to boost people’s empathy for other human beings?⁠ ⁠

 ?  If VR technology boosts short-term empathy, but doesn’t end up changing people’s long-term behavior very much, ... is that ok? ⁠ ⁠

 ?  If you were going to create a series of empathy-building VR experiences … Which types of human beings/scenarios would you feature? ⁠ ⁠


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