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

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2021 Dec;74(12):2057-2074. doi: 10.1177/17470218211024826. Epub 2021 Jun 30.


Perspective-taking, whether through imagination or virtual-reality interventions, seems to improve intergroup relations; however, which intervention leads to better outcomes remains unclear. This preregistered 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 with the control group, the embodied perspective-taking group scored higher on empathy sub-components. On the contrary, both perspective-taking interventions differentially affected neither explicit nor implicit race bias. Our study suggests that embodiment of an outgroup can enhance empathy.

Keywords: Perspective-taking; empathy; implicit bias; intergroup relations; prejudice.

MeSH terms

  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Prejudice
  • Virtual Reality*