To what extent can virtual reality and machines stimulate empathy?
Empathy plays crucial role in human society. We empathize with others when we share ourÂ personal experience with them. According to Adam Smith (1759), a man is aware of others inÂ order to gain empathy from them, and by performing based on the awareness social order isÂ preserved. By empathizing each other, our society can be formed fairly and morally. It isÂ important for us to understand others and the understanding affects human society. In addition,Â human beings can empathize with not only others but also characters in a book or a film. TheyÂ empathize when share personal experience, read a book and watch a film by understand othersâ€™Â or characterâ€™s feeling. Virtual reality can also tell othersâ€™ experience or feeling to viewers.Â Virtual reality does not require read a characterâ€™s story or watch story through a screen, but itÂ can create characterâ€™s environment and situation around a user. This artificial digital space canÂ transport viewer to another environment. In virtual environment, viewers may feel otherâ€™sÂ emotion or situation strongly by being in the same space with a character and closer from aÂ character. To absorb oneself in virtual reality can stimulate empathy. Stimulated empathy withÂ other in virtual reality can make users feel virtual environment more realistic. This will defineÂ how virtual reality and machines can stimulate empathy between people, and to what extentÂ they allow people to understand others. I believe that this empathizing can combine virtualÂ reality and physical reality more strongly.
A basic definition of empathy is to understand otherâ€™s subjective experience by vicariouslyÂ sharing the experience (Ioannidou and Konstantikaki, 2008). To imagine participating in otherâ€™sÂ emotional experience, empathy can be appeared and you can recognize otherâ€™s feelingsÂ (Ioannidou and Konstantikaki, 2008). Â Empathy can allow us understand other and feel otherâ€™sÂ emotion by sharing experiences. Moreover, empathy is classified into two types; empathy toÂ focuses on oneself and to care about others. Staub (1987) names these two types of empathy;Â former is called participatory empathy and the letter is named affective empathy. ParticipatoryÂ empathy reproduces similar emotion, thoughts and feelings with othersâ€™ experience inÂ himself/herself, therefore this kind of empathy concerns others passively (Staub, 1987). Â On theÂ other hand, Affective empathy generates strong vicarious emotion in oneself by consideringÂ otherâ€™s feeling or condition. This means that affective empathy concerns others actively (Staub,Â 1987). For instance, according to Mehrabian and Epstein (1972), a human has two kind ofÂ emotion when they face to otherâ€™s agony. First, they feel tightness in their chest by otherâ€™sÂ anguish and then they try to relive the tightness. This emotion may correspond to participatoryÂ empathy. Second emotion also occurs in the same situation, when someone sees otherâ€™s agony,Â he or she feel sympathy with other and try to pay attention or support other (Mehrabian andÂ Epstein, 1972). It is considered this emotion corresponds affective empathy. Thus, there are twoÂ types of empathy; participatory empathy and affective empathy. It is likely that participatoryÂ empathy is empathy that we can gain from charactersâ€™ feeling or conditions in books, films orÂ plays by reflecting themselves and their experience. Moreover, it is considered that affectiveÂ empathy can be stimulated when someone experience otherâ€™s feeling vicariously.Â A recent study revealed that the source of empathy occurs is not only from previousÂ experience, but it is also induced by non-verbal contact (Goldie, 2000). For instance, eyeÂ contact and social touch can prompt receiverâ€™s empathy. Empathy is induced by vicariouslyÂ knowing otherâ€™s subjective experience, and it also occurs when an empathizer receive non-verbal contact such as eye contact and social touch.
Clouds OverÂ Sidra created by Chris Milk in 2015
In terms of viewing otherâ€™s subjective experience vicariously, films can be used to represent it.Â By watching otherâ€™s world or environment through a screen, viewers may empathize theÂ characters deeply. This is because that todayâ€™s film viewers can move through characterâ€™s brainÂ or mental landscape directory instead of looking through he/her eyes (Pisters, 2012). However,Â it seems like viewers watch other world throughÂ a window that is a screen. This is likely thatÂ viewers watch a story from different worldÂ because the distance from a screen to a viewerâ€™sÂ body makes a distance between them andÂ characters in a film. As a result, viewers canÂ recognize a difference between reality and filmÂ world from the distance. On the otherÂ hand, a virtual reality film that requiresÂ users wearing a headset can transportÂ viewers to other world and make other environment around users. A project called Clouds OverÂ Sidra created by Chris Milk in 2015 transported users to a Syrian refugee camp. ThisÂ project tries to focus on a 12-year-old Syrian girl named Sidra and show her daily life at homeÂ and school in the camp by using virtual reality. Users can watch her environment without aÂ distance from their body to a screen. This can create an illusion as it like your environment andÂ induce deep empathy. To watch her environment and situation next to her in virtual reality canÂ stimulate empathy with her. It is not empathizing through imaging characterâ€™s feeling, butÂ experiencing similar feeling with the character by being in the same environment throughÂ virtual reality. To do so, it can stimulate empathy and users can understand otherâ€™s surroundings.Â Virtual reality films can stimulate participatory empathy. Basically, viewers and readersÂ empathize with characters in media such as films and books. They feel participatory empathyÂ through imagining and understanding the charactersâ€™ emotion and situation, and byÂ superimposing on their same or similar experience (Staub, 1987). Participatory empathy isÂ created by superimposing otherâ€™s experience on oneâ€™s experience. Therefore, it seems thatÂ virtual reality films that can transport users to characterâ€™s world and environment can stimulatesÂ the empathy easier than other media. Virtual reality can create environment around users andÂ make experience for them, while other media show viewers through a screen or make readersÂ imagine the surroundings of a character. 360 degree virtual reality with a head mounted display,Â that users can experience virtual environment, may send users to a characterâ€™s virtual realityÂ world, and then they may feel like they see characterâ€™s situation or occurrence next to theÂ character in a film. Â By seeing characterâ€™s world and penetrating into a story, viewers canÂ superimpose characterâ€™s situation on themselves easily. Then participatory empathy may beÂ stimulated more strongly than other media by this kind of film.
According to Guterstam and EhrssonÂ (2012), if our conscious is located in aÂ different place from our real body, we disownÂ our body. We can no longer perceive it as partÂ of their body. When the predictionÂ consequences of the action and the actualÂ consequences of actions match, one feelsÂ oneself to be the agent of those actionsÂ (Kilteni, Grothen and Slater, 2012). There isÂ not an inalterable link between a body andÂ visual sensation. Therefore, it is easy to createÂ physical illusion. BeAnotherLab performedÂ that performers experience another body byÂ using the physical illusion. Gender SwapÂ is one of them. A male and aÂ female couple, who wears a headset, a head tracking, headphones, a microphone and servoÂ controlled cameras, are shown another genderâ€™s view through head mounted display, and theyÂ are required to synchronize their movements. If one does not correspond to the movement of theÂ other, the embodiment experience does not work (Bertrand, et al., 2014). Watching otherâ€™s viewÂ and synchronized movement creates illusion for both performers, and they can experienceÂ another genderâ€™s body. Through this performance, performers can experience otherâ€™s body byÂ exchanging their body for another gender performerâ€™s body through virtual reality. There isÂ fundamental physical difference between man and woman even though users can feel otherÂ genderâ€™s body. This is not only sharing experience with other but also exchanging experienceÂ performance. By exchanging their experience and surrounding through virtual reality, users canÂ empathize and understand other more clearly.Â This illusionary experience is different from virtual reality films. It may be able to stimulateÂ affective empathy. This empathy is an emotional reaction to otherâ€™s feeling in order toÂ understand what other feels in their situation. It may be considered that people can feel affectiveÂ empathy strongly when they experience otherâ€™s experiences. The performance byÂ BeAnotherLab is an experiment that performers can feel embodying otherâ€™s body throughÂ virtual reality. They will be under an illusion that they get into otherâ€™s body. Their affectiveÂ empathy may be stimulated by getting into otherâ€™s body and viewing otherâ€™s environment andÂ situation from otherâ€™s eye level. It seems difficult to make an experience of others body for anyÂ media such as a film or a game. Therefore, participatory empathy, that we gain by imaginingÂ and understanding otherâ€™s emotion, is felt easier than affective empathy and this type ofÂ empathy is considered as more general form of empathy (Staub, 1987). However, using virtualÂ reality and physical body in order to create an illusion can generate affective empathy, and theÂ empathizing person may understand otherâ€™s feeling and situation deeply.
Gender Swap by BeAnotherLab
Experience of otherâ€™s environment is not only way toÂ stimulate empathyÂ but, as Goldie (2000) pointed out, empathyÂ can also be stimulated by eye contact and physical contact suchÂ as touching. InFOME is an interface that can connectÂ with users who are different space through a display and usersÂ can communicate physically. A rendered shape is duplicated byÂ 900 pins and it can react to user input or continuously updateÂ their properties based on an underlying simulation (Leithinger,Â et al., 2015). This is new means of physically displaying 3DÂ graphics that allow users direct physical contact, and the usersÂ can interact by touching physical shapes rendered through theÂ surface of the display (Leithinger, et al., 2015). This machineÂ can stimulate deeper communication for users by beingÂ touched the surface that rendered other userâ€™s movement.Â Touching is an important factor for human communication. WeÂ communicate and read otherâ€™s emotions through touching toÂ the same extent that we communicate emotions through facial,Â vocal and body expressions (Berthouze and Jimenez, 2014). ItÂ is difficult for users to generate participatory empathy orÂ affective empathy by only touching others through a machine. However, the touching can likelyÂ support to generate empathy, while communication with other. Touching otherâ€™s movementÂ through inFOME makes users read otherâ€™s emotion easily, and stimulates empathy betweenÂ users.
inFORM by Tangiblemedia
To sum up, Empathy plays a crucial role in human communication. People can understand andÂ empathize when they comprehend otherâ€™s subjective experience and environment. ParticipatoryÂ empathy is emotion that an empathizing person feels similar emotion what is reproduced fromÂ his/her experience. Affective empathy is also generated when an empathizing person faces toÂ otherâ€™s experience. However, this empathy creates emotion an empathizing person instead of anÂ empathized person. These two types of empathy can be stimulated by virtual reality due to theÂ fact that virtual reality is able to simulate the otherâ€™s experience and environment for users, andÂ the users can experience otherâ€™s experience and surroundings through it. To do so, usersÂ perceive empathy more directly. 360 degree virtual reality films can make viewers similarÂ feeling with a character of the story. Performances using embodiment illusion have a potentialÂ that performers can experience otherâ€™s body. To create virtual environment around a user, theÂ user can perceives a characterâ€™s or otherâ€™s situation or emotion deeply. Then this stimulates theirÂ empathy strongly. Moreover, to touch others through a machine, such as inFOME, alsoÂ stimulate userâ€™s empathy when users touch machineâ€™s surface skin that is simulated renderedÂ userâ€™s movement. Those vicariously physical touching may also stimulate empathy. VirtualÂ reality and machines enable users to stimulate empathy and empathize more deeply byÂ becoming an information-exchanging tool. They are not an imaging empathy media, such asÂ books and films, but embodying empathy machine. It is seems like this embodying empathyÂ makes virtual world substantial, and combines virtual world and physical world.Â Through this paper, possible directions for future studies that aim toward a deeperÂ conceptualization of embodying empathy were outlined. However, future studies are stillÂ needed to define concept of empathy to understand it more deeply and to represent my designÂ projects.
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[Figure 1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/16/business/media/brands-look-far-and-wide-for-a-niche-in-virtual-reality.html?_r=0
[Figure 2]Â http://johnlatham.me/empathy-key-creating-value/
[Figure 3] Â http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/blog/virtual-reality-doc-puts-you-inside-a-syrian-refugee-camp