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Empathy Training in Virtual Environments

Alex Rivera

Alex Rivera

Chief Editor at EduNow.me

Empathy Training in Virtual Environments

Empathy may seem like an intangible quality, but its importance cannot be overstated in business success. Companies are investing in training to help employees develop these soft skills – in hopes that it increases sales and customer satisfaction.

VR provides an effective means of cultivating empathy by immersing users into other people’s experiences, providing a firsthand account. Studies have demonstrated it to reduce implicit bias while increasing mimicry of outgroup members.

1. Practice makes perfect

Empathy is an increasingly valued skill in the workplace, being one of those “soft” skills which help us understand other people’s feelings. Empathy plays an integral part in many jobs involving people such as leadership roles, customer service positions and healthcare sectors.

Studies have proven VR to be an effective method for teaching empathy. Promising results from studies across multiple fields and professions indicate that using virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive for empathy training could enhance an individual’s natural empathy skills while using VR’s immersive experience to increase its effect.

VR provides a more realistic and immersive experience that can help alter ingrained perspectives and unconscious biases, leading to more active learning by stimulating senses and encouraging socialization between individuals.

Arizona-based technology company Axon, known for producing Tasers used by law enforcement officers, recently created a virtual reality crisis intervention training program. They chose VR over role-play for two reasons; firstly it proved difficult to accurately represent someone experiencing hallucinations or sensory overload using traditional methods; thus VR became their solution.

VR can simulate real-life experiences that help people feel more connected to others, such as coming across members of an outgroup that has been stigmatized or experiencing the other side of a conflict. VR can also help develop more conscious understandings of one’s own prejudices by providing exposure to intergroup interactions which encourage self-reflection and empathy towards the other (Proteus effect).

Literature shows the effectiveness of embodied VR training strategies in cultivating skills necessary for healthy empathic responses. The table below details methods to incorporate catalyst factors, educational approaches that foster natural abilities development, and specific empathy-related training strategies that enhance specific empathy capabilities through VR. Empathy-related education using these methodologies should produce resilient and long-lasting empathic responses in children.

2. Make eye contact

Eye contact is one of the key elements to understanding what people are feeling nonverbally, yet many struggle with making consistent eye contact. People suffering from social anxiety may find it hard to make this connection consistently and it may take them longer than normal to make eye contact when talking or listening; these individuals would benefit from seeing a therapist or taking medication that can make them feel more at ease during conversations.

Another group who struggle with making eye contact are those unfamiliar with it. Such people will typically look away or their eyes will roam around aimlessly while talking, creating awkwardness for all parties involved and sending the message that the speaker does not care about them. These individuals might resolve to rectify their eye contact issues for a period of time by exercising sheer willpower or by finding new things to think about; but eventually their skills regress back to old ways, making meaningful relationships increasingly challenging to form.

Soft skills, including empathy, have become increasingly critical to businesses today. Soft skills allow employees to connect more authentically with one another and customers – an ability essential for both leadership positions and customer service roles.

Virtual reality has been described as an “empathy machine”, as its power to alter ingrained perspectives and unconscious biases is well documented. One such study involved participants donning VR goggles to experience life in a foreign country as though they were refugees or taking on the perspective of someone with dementia who saw everything through their eyes.

3. Practice makes perfect

VR training can help develop various soft skills, such as empathy. Empathy is essential in many people-centred careers such as leadership roles, customer service positions and healthcare. Studies have proven that VR is the superior way to foster empathy within customers or colleagues.

Employees looking to develop their empathy skills may benefit from engaging in virtual reality scenarios that require them to remain calm while listening attentively, practicing nonverbal communication, perspective taking, approaching difficult conversations or resolving conflicts – these exercises could ultimately translate to improved performance in real-life situations where these empathy skills will come in handy.

Recent research by hotel company Hilton saw trainees using an Oculus Rift headset simulate what simulated to be a typical day at work, from tasks completion and customer interactions (some were polite while others became angry or impatient), making personal connections with them and helping them to find solutions more quickly than their counterparts who did not participate. The result? Their VR training helped solve issues more rapidly and efficiently than those who hadn’t taken part.

Embodied Labs also offers empathy simulations to allow users to experience life through the eyes of those suffering from conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia and macular degeneration. Through immersive VR they can complete daily activities such as cooking or shopping alongside characters affected by illness; or listen to an audio clip featuring someone suffering high frequency hearing loss. Studies conducted have consistently revealed that participants who experienced VR empathy simulations were more likely to act compassionately toward others even after leaving the virtual environment.

Virtual reality’s strength lies in its ability to shift user’s perspectives and unconscious biases, giving them empathy to understand the challenges others in their communities are facing – making VR such an effective weapon against racism and intolerance.

4. Practice makes perfect

Social skill development can be challenging, yet its rewards can be immense. By improving social skills you’ll boost your confidence, sense of belonging, and collaboration at work; all essential components to a successful career. Thanks to VR’s widespread availability it’s now possible to leverage virtual reality technology for training empathy related skills; several studies are exploring its effectiveness as an empathy-training method in VR environments.

Embodied Labs employs virtual reality to train medical professionals on how to build empathy for those living with dementia or macular degeneration, using Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headsets and placing trainees into scenarios involving characters suffering from the same ailments as their own patients, with all participants asked to consider how these conditions impact daily lives and family relationships.

VR experiences also allow trainees to practice active listening and problem-solving abilities, an integral component of empathy training which can improve communication and promote a more pleasant patient experience.

VR has also been used to train customer service employees. Hilton, one of the premier hotel chains, deployed a VR program to train its team on customer service and empathy skills; after which customer dissatisfaction dropped by 50% and issue resolution times reduced significantly.

Arizona-based Axon, known for their law enforcement products such as Tasers, recently developed a Virtual Reality Empathy Training program designed to teach officers how to de-escalate situations involving people in crisis. The results have shown a reduction in officer-citizen confrontations while improving both safety and community relations.

While VR holds great potential in helping train empathy-related skills, it is important to remember that it doesn’t develop spontaneously; like any other skill it must be nurtured and developed through education practices and training techniques that work outside the laboratory setting and into real life scenarios. Training involving empathy via VR may lead to better healthcare, corporate and political interactions as long as individuals dedicate the necessary effort and energy toward cultivating it in their workplace environment.

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