"Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another." -- Alfred Adler
With the rise of technology, many of us are spending hours and hours on social media and online platforms -- communicating through screens. We have less face-to-face interaction with our peers -- interaction that is crucial for learning how to read and express emotion. And, we often see viral content and news coverage that may have a hand in desensitizing us.
Our ability to share and understand others' emotions, which can foster helpful and altruistic behavior, is more important now than ever. But is technology doomed to destroy our empathy and compassion?
According to new research, now may be the time that technology actually encourages and builds empathy and compassion.
A study published this month in the open-access journal PLOS ONE suggests that Virtual Reality could be a "useful tool to encourage empathy, helpful behavior, and positive attitudes towards marginalized groups." This study, led by Fernanda Herrera from Stanford University, investigated if virtual reality (VR) systems could aid "perspective-taking" -- that is, if participants could successfully imagine what it would be like to be someone else under specific circumstances.
In the study, one control group of participants only read information about homelessness. Meanwhile, other groups experienced the narratives interactively on a computer, or by experiencing the narrative in 3D using virtual reality.
The results? In comparison to narrative-reading or computer-based task participants, VR participants were more likely to sign petitions to support homeless populations when asked. Follow-up surveys also showed participants in the VR task has longer-lasting positive effects on empathy when compared to those in the narrative-reading task.
When we work to truly understand the perspective of others, we work toward removing judgment and hate from this world. Technology may have made building empathy difficult in the last few decades, but it may now be the solution we have been needing all along, hiding in plain sight.