[PHOTO: FLICKR USER AGUSTÍN RUIZ, ILLUSTRATION: AGSANDREW/ISTOCK]
AICEX: Un post per chi vuole capire l’essenza vera della realtà Virtuale. A partire dal Design. Perchè forse solo uscendo dal nostro Mondo riusciamo a comprenderlo davvero.
From training diverse workforces to understand each other to putting product designers in the shoes of their customers, VR is poised to be far more than just a game.
Researchers at Stanford are running “virtual shoes” experiments in which people “viscerally embody avatars” that encounter various forms of prejudice, based on age, race, economic status, and disabilities. Then, subjects are tested for changes in empathy levels toward these groups. After positive initial results, the team is now partnering with neuroscientists to demonstrate how these experiences–which they quite clinically call “self-other merging”–can physically change the brain to reduce bias.
Social innovators are tapping into VR to deepen citizens’ identification with disadvantaged people and places. After screening its documentary on a 12-year-old refugee in Jordan, Clouds over Sidra, in 360-degree video, UNICEF more than doubled its annual fundraising haul. Pencils of Promise, which builds schools for children without access to them, used the same technology to show what learning feels like before and after access to a decent learning environment. More recently, an immersive experience called Notes on Blindness stole the show at the Tribeca Film Festival, by putting the “audience” in the mind’s eye of someone who is blind. 3D sound was the star here, showing that VR’s power transcends fancy visuals.
But empathy-driven VR isn’t just for advocates and academics, it has value for business, too.
For one, it can help employers build the inclusive workplace that lets talent of all stripes thrive. Discrimination is a bottom-line issue for today’s companies; sexual harassment alone drives millions of dollars in productivity losses a year, through absenteeism, morale loss, and legal action. Achieving sensitivity on issues of gender, race, or disabilities is easier when teams are placed into firsthand simulations in which they feel the perspective of the victim. And as organizations reach across national borders, cross-cultural training can go virtual, too.
VR can also help business grasp what life is really like for the people they serve, building their effectiveness in meeting their needs. Designer tools like behavioral studies, user interviews, and ethnographic research, while powerful, can miss key insights on people’s pain points. They’re also only used by designers. Perspective-based VR can bridge this gap. In an effort to improve bedside manner, doctors in the UK were immersed in the perspective of a patient entering the emergency room. They were shocked by the effect of seeing their own unfeeling body language.
As VR technology improves, the same method could be applied across whole organizations, enabling everyone to take a human-centered approach to their work.
Imagine if Pampers could tap VR to allow all its employees to walk through a day in the life of a single mother of a newborn. Or if White House Presidential Innovation Fellows supporting the Department of Veterans Affairs could immerse themselves in the struggles of life as a vet with disabilities. How about health care companies that actually experience the constant interruptions of life as a Type-1 diabetic? The egocentric executive in the corner office might not listen to what designers tell him, but we’d bet he’d be willing to dive into a virtual experience.
But can these technologies really build our affinity toward people and planet? Hard science has already proven it can change our minds, literally and figuratively. People with psychological disorders, from cockroach phobias to post-traumatic stress disorder, have shown demonstrated improvement through VR and AR therapies that allow them to face their fears in low-stakes simulations.
People’s brains process immersive VR and AR differently than traditional media. By achieving the sensation of presence, these experiences can be logged by the brain as memories, which can in turn change one’s values and behavior. In a recent control group study, subjects were obliged to cut down a virtual tree, and were then tracked on their use of paper in their daily lives. People who went through the virtual experience conserved more in the real world, and continued to do so, compared with those who read reports or saw movies on the topic. It’s this dynamic that lends VR its potency in helping people overcome deeply rooted, destructive behaviors, whether phobias, racial prejudice, or wasteful consumption.
Are we saying that solving a societal crisis of compassion is as simple as strapping on a headset? Of course not. When it comes to boosting the better angels of our nature, there are no silver bullets.
Still, across the media, the social sector, and business, those that are tapping VR’s empathy superpowers are moving people, and in the process separating themselves from the pack. It’s a heartening trend in a challenging time. Maybe by stepping out of our world, we can take a step closer to understanding each other in it.
AUTHOR: Will Byrne