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, 13 (8), e0202442

Virtual Reality Perspective-Taking Increases Cognitive Empathy for Specific Others


Virtual Reality Perspective-Taking Increases Cognitive Empathy for Specific Others

Austin van Loon et al. PLoS One.


Previous research shows that virtual reality perspective-taking experiences (VRPT) can increase prosocial behavior toward others. We extend this research by exploring whether this effect of VRPT is driven by increased empathy and whether the effect extends to ostensibly real-stakes behavioral games. In a pre-registered laboratory experiment (N = 180), participants interacted with an ostensible partner (a student from the same university as them) on a series of real-stakes economic games after (a) taking the perspective of the partner in a virtual reality, "day-in-the-life" simulation, (b) taking the perspective of a different person in a "day-in-the-life" simulation, or (c) doing a neutral activity in a virtual environment. The VRPT experience successfully increased participants' subsequent propensity to take the perspective of their partner (a facet of empathy), but only if the partner was the same person whose perspective participants assumed in the virtual reality simulation. Further, this effect of VRPT on perspective-taking was moderated by participants' reported feeling of immersion in the virtual environment. However, we found no effects of VRPT experience on behavior in the economic games.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Fig 1
Fig 1. Avatars.
The participants may have taken the perspective of James (left) OR Steve (right).
Fig 2
Fig 2. Equipment/first task.
Participants hold the HTC controllers (indicated with green circles) in their hands and wear the HTC Vive HMD (indicated with a red circle) on their head as shown and interact with the IVE as their real-world sensory input is replaced with the world of the IVE. The individual in this image (as well as in Figs 3 and 4) has given written informed consent (as outlined in PLOS consent form) to publish these photos.
Fig 3
Fig 3. Second task.
Participants stand at a podium and give a presentation about “themselves” based on information presented to them via a screen in the back of the classroom.
Fig 4
Fig 4. Third task.
Participants complete a series of exercises while looking at a screen placed such that they also see a reflection of their avatar.
Fig 5
Fig 5. Order of experimental materials.
Fig 6
Fig 6. Effect of condition on time-2 perspective taking.
Fig 7
Fig 7. Effect of condition and presence on time-2 perspective taking.

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Grant support

Funded by The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funding associated with proposal 69783LSDRP, applied to by JB, JZ, and RW. (Website for DARPA: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.