Body swapping with a Black person boosts empathy: Using virtual reality to embody another


Perspective-taking, whether through imagination or virtual-reality interventions, seems to improve intergroup relations; however, what intervention leads to better outcomes remains unclear. This pre-registered study collected measures of empathy and race bias from 90 participants, split into one of three perspective-taking groups: embodied perspective-taking, mental perspective-taking, and a control group. We drew on virtual-reality technology alongside a Black confederate across all conditions. Only in the first group, participants got to exchange real-time viewpoints with the confederate and literally “see through the eyes of another.” In the two other conditions, participants either imagined a day in the life of the Black confederate or in their own life, respectively. Our findings show that, compared to the control group, the embodied perspective-taking group scored higher on empathy sub-components. On the other hand, both perspective-taking interventions differentially affected neither explicit nor implicit race bias. Our study suggests that embodiment of an outgroup can enhance empathy.

Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Rémi Thériault
Rémi Thériault
PhD Student (Social Psychology)

My research interests include social/implicit cognition, altruism, and dreams.