Research shows virtual reality can increase empathy

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The reality can be a real disappointment. You have a hundred different issues to deal with in life, many of them simultaneously – from looming deadlines and societal expectations to grumpy bosses and grumpier exes. There’s only one band-aid that can stem the tide of your disillusion: escape. For millennia, humans have found ways to escape reality, through books, movies, video games, virtual reality, and now, through the metaverse. “People come to the Oasis for anything they can do. But they stay because of all they can be. They can be big, beautiful, live-action, cartoon…. says the protagonist, Wade, in Steven Spielberg. Loan player one (2018), about a dystopian world where people live inside a virtual simulation called the Oasis (much like what the metaverse might look like in the future). “Best of all, at Oasis, no one could tell I was fat, had acne, or wore the same crummy clothes every week, bullies couldn’t bombard me with spit balls, Giving me atomic wedgies or hitting me near the bike rack after school. Nobody could even touch me. Here I was safe.

In the metaverse where anything is possible – you can look inside cells, watch whales in the Pacific, swing planets around the universe – the repercussions for our behavior could be explosive.

Before you dismiss the Oasis as just a piece of science fiction made from someone’s overactive imagination, think of all the inventions that have been inspired by science fiction – from the pacemaker, which is said to have taken off from the 1818 novel by Mary Shelley, Frankensteinto self-driving cars, which were first popularized by the Knight Rider series in 1982. And if the Oasis is a precursor to what the metaverse might become, then whatever “atomic wedgies” might be the least of our worries. There are bigger questions to consider: “Who is going to regulate the metaverse? How serious will government or corporate surveillance be? Will the metaverse change our behavior? Will we really be in it?

Scientists, sociologists, researchers and technocrats have studied these questions for a long time. To demonstrate the power of immersive technology like virtual reality to change our behavior, researcher Mel Slater conducted an experiment where subjects were asked to give a shock to a digital representation of a person each time that person incorrectly answered a question. (It was Slater’s spin on Stanley Milgram’s famous 1960s experiment to understand why people approved of and even actively participated in Nazi atrocities.) For each wrong answer, the tension would be incrementally increased. Even after the subjects knew they were shocking a computer program, their physiological responses (sweating, biting lips, moaning) were as if they were shocking a real person. “What do you think of this strange result? asks Jeremy Bailenson in his 2018 book on virtual reality, On-demand experience. “When we consider that the subjects were made uncomfortable with the idea of ​​administering fake electric shocks, what can we expect people to feel when they engage in all sorts of imaginary violence and chaos in virtual reality?”

Additionally, Bailenson describes what is called the “Proteus effect”: When someone wears an avatar, they implicitly become like that avatar. People in taller avatars negotiate more aggressively, people in attractive avatars talk more socially, and people in older avatars care more about the distant future, he says. “Our research shows that you can indeed embody someone different from yourself in VR and experience something from their perspective,” Bailenson told THE WEEK. “We have conducted several research studies that have shown that virtual reality can increase empathy and prosocial behavior. As technology evolves, simulations will become more and more compelling.

In the metaverse where anything is possible, you can look inside cells, go whale watching in the Pacific, get tickets to the biggest sporting events, swing planets in the universe, play paintball on clouds , becoming a dog or an ax murderer — the repercussions on our behavior could be explosive. Mixing the real and the digital in extremely powerful ways could lead to chaos. How will the real coexist in a world where everyone has several alter egos? How do you use the metaverse responsibly so that it only augments the pleasures of the real world without completely eclipsing it?

To answer that, you have to address the elephant in the metaverse: Mark Zuckerberg’s fashion sense. Last October, when Zuckerberg presented Facebook’s rebranding to Meta, he took us on a fascinating virtual tour of everything you could do in the Metaverse, from experiential art to space travel. . Yet he did it in his black jeans, white sneakers and navy t-shirt. “Really Zuck, you could have worn anything, and you chose that?” tweeted one disgruntled user, expressing the disappointment of dozens of Meta watchers. He could have worn fur, gold or metal. He could have opted for zombie gore or bohemian chic. Oh, the endless possibilities…. Still, he decided to dress like himself.

Thus, inadvertently, he underlined an important principle of the metaverse. It works best when you use it to do the things you can’t do, not the things you can do differently. Use it to have an epic adventure with the Avengers or to watch the world unfold from the top of the Grand Canyon, not to change how you dress in the real world or what you eat for breakfast. What Bailenson says about virtual reality can also apply to the metaverse: “If an experience is not impossible, dangerous, expensive or counterproductive, then you should seriously consider using another medium, or even do it in the real world. Save virtual reality for the special moments. Reality isn’t such a bad place to be, after all. As it says in Loan player oneit’s the only place where you can eat properly.

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