Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Can the Use of Virtual Reality Reduce Racial Bias?

December 22, 2014
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Can the Use of Virtual Reality Reduce Racial Bias?
Three experiments aimed at decreasing racial biases in participants. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Maister et al.
Seeing yourself with a different color of skin can have a lasting impact.

How can you change a person’s view of race? Try changing the color of his or her own skin.

Researchers discovered that making white people feel that they are wearing brown skin is associated with a decrease in racial bias. Researchers Lara Maister, Mel Slater, Maria V. Sanchez-Vives, and Manos Tsakiris write in Trends in Cognitive Science, “Ownership of an outgroup body has been found to be associated with a significant reduction in implicit biases against that outgroup.”

How did researchers convince study participants that they were in an “outgroup” or minority body?

In the first technique — the “Rubber Hand Illusion” — participants watched a screen that showed a brown-skinned rubber hand being touched while their own hands were touched in a similar way. In the second, called the “Enfacement Illusion,” white participants watched a video in which the face of a dark-skinned person was being stroked with cotton, while having their own faces touched in a similar fashion. In both of these scenarios, test subjects showed signs of reduced racial biases.

In the third experiment, “Full Body Illusions,” participants played virtual reality computer games in which their avatars either had brown, white or purple skin. Those that played the game with brown-skinned avatars demonstrated reduced bias against black people in a subsequent test, while those who’d played the game with white or purple skin showed no change.

Researcher Slater tells the Huffington Post, “Generally using these techniques, it is possible to give two sides of a conflict an experience of what it is like to be a member of the ‘other side,’ This should help to build empathy.”

Unfortunately, real world applications have yet to be developed. But in light of all the recent civil unrest in this country, organizations such as police departments and schools could definitely benefit from these findings and any subsequent usage of them  — leaving a lasting impact on this nation.

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