Can VR Help Tackle Unconscious Bias? | by Alice Bonasio | Tech Trends

Immersive tech could be a helpful tool in addressing society’s pervasive problem of systemic racism.

Technologies such as Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed reality — collectively referred to as XR — have long been touted as an “Empathy Machine,” and for very good reason. They enable us to easily change our perspective and experience what it’s like to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” which makes them particularly well-suited for soft skills training.

VR pioneers such as Nonny de la Peña explored these empathy-building possibilities in works such as “Across the Line” and there is a growing body of research looking at the impact of virtual embodiment on behavior. Some of the most salient examples of this include a study which indicated that convicted domestic abusers embodying a woman in an assault scenario will improve their faculty to recognize fear in a woman’s face, or that people embodying a man becoming homeless would be more likely to sign a petition to build social housing sent to them weeks later.

Do virtual lives matter?

Christophe Mallet, co-founder of BODYSWAPS — an immersive technologies innovation agency based in London — points to a study which showed that people who embodied a Black man in virtual reality were less likely to pronounce a guilty verdict in mock legal scenarios involving Black defendants and a limited body of evidence.

“You can only ever be yourself. That’s part of the human condition. That means we have a natural tendency to dehumanise the ‘other’, to diminish their suffering, to negate their complexity. And that’s how we often justify the unbelievable amount of cruelty we inflict upon each other as a species,” Mallet adds.

In the face of the important debates currently taking place following the tragic killing of George Floyd and the growing momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. and around the world, this begs the question of what role technology can play in helping to address the monumental challenge of tackling systemic racism in society.

“Everyone, including those in the technology industry, has a moral obligation to help tackle the problem of systemic marginalization and racism,” says Wendy Morgan, CEO and founder of Shift, which uses VR…

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