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, 74(12), 2057-2074.
Rémi Thériault
Rémi Thériault
PhD Student (Social Psychology)

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