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How experiencing discrimination in VR can make you less biased
What would it be like to live in the body of someone else? With VR, now you can actually find out.
Jeremy Bailenson: Most psychologists agree the best way to have somebody increase empathy is to engage in something called perspective taking.
Imagining that you’re someone else trying to cognitively and emotionally understand some event from their perspective. It’s hard to do that. Often we don’t have the facts, meaning I don’t know what’s going on through your mind. I don’t have an experience of what it’s like to be you.
And it’s also very effortful. It’s hard to actually imagine what it’s like to be someone else. And, in fact, when it comes to empathy we’re often thinking about unpleasant things, for example, what it’s like to be homeless, and the brain doesn’t want to go there.
So VR is a really neat tool because it takes that cognitive effort out. It increases accuracy so you’re not operating on stereotypes you may have in your mind, where you can actually experience the life of someone else as that person lives.
Since 2003 I’ve been running experiments that take a person, puts her in virtual reality and gives her an experience that you couldn’t have in the real world. This could be being in a different place or it could actually be becoming a different person.
So the first study we ran was about ageism and we took college-age students, and they walked up to a virtual mirror. And the reason we have a virtual mirror is to show the person they become different via a process called body transfer.
This is a neuroscientific process where if you move your physical body and you have an avatar that moves what’s called synchronously, that means at the same time that you move your arm, you see its arm move and you see that in a mirror as well as in the first person.
Over time the part of the brain that contains the schema for the self expands and includes this external representation as part of the body. So by using a virtual mirror and showing somebody moving with the mirror, you can literally feel like you’ve become someone else. You can be a different gender, a different age. You can become disabled. You can have a different skin color. And our first study took college-age students. We had them become older, about 60 to 70 years old.
We then networked a second person into virtual reality and there was a conversation between the two. Over time the conversation turned to stereotypical concepts about being older. So perhaps you didn’t have a good memory, and these stereotypes were activated in the conversation. So while wearing the body of someone else who’s an older person I felt discrimination firsthand as a subject.
And what we showed in that first study published in 2005 was that subjects who had gone through this treatment became less ageist when they came out.
For example, if you asked them to list words about the elderly they were less likely to list words that were stereotypical. Since that first study, we’ve run dozens of studies.
We’ve looked at empathy in terms of becoming a different race, becoming a different gender, even becoming a different species. If you become a cow, how does that make you think about animals? And what our research has shown is VR is not a magic tool.
It doesn’t work every single time but in general, across all of our studies, VR tends to outperform control conditions.
For example, imagining you’re someone else via role playing or reading about case studies. This experience of walking a mile in someone’s shoes tends to be more effective at causing empathy and behavior change towards others.
At the 2018 Tribeca film festival, we’re going to premiere a piece called Thousand Cut Journey. I’m working with Courtney Cogburn. She’s a professor at Columbia and she studies implicit bias and black/white racism. The piece is designed to show how people of color do not experience racism once or twice in their lives, it’s a process they go through pretty much every day.
And so this piece is, you start out as an elementary school child and you’re in a classroom. You then become a teenager and you’re interacting with police officers. You then become an adult who’s going on a job interview, and what you experience while wearing the body of a black male is implicit bias that happens repeatedly and over time.
And so that’s a piece that’s going to premiere in April and what we’re currently doing is running experiments to test, to see if it changes attitudes and what aspects of the experience are most effective at changing those attitudes.
What would it be like to live in the body of someone else? Since the dawn of mankind, people have imagined what it would be like to inhabit another body, just for a day or even for a few minutes. Thanks to the magic of VR, we can now do that. Jeremy Bailenson, the creator of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, has designed a VR experience called 1000 Cut Journey that may change the way people see race: by experiencing it firsthand. Jeremy explains to us, "You start out as an elementary school child and you’re in a classroom. You then become a teenager and you’re interacting with police officers. You then become an adult who’s going on a job interview, and what you experience while wearing the body of a black male is implicit bias that happens repeatedly and over time." Jeremy is brought to you today by Amway. Amway believes that diversity and inclusion are essential to the growth and prosperity of today’s companies. When woven into every aspect of the talent life cycle, companies committed to diversity and inclusion are the best equipped to innovate, and improve brand image and drive performance.
"Deepfakes" and "cheap fakes" are becoming strikingly convincing — even ones generated on freely available apps.
- A writer named Magdalene Visaggio recently used FaceApp and Airbrush to generate convincing portraits of early U.S. presidents.
- "Deepfake" technology has improved drastically in recent years, and some countries are already experiencing how it can weaponized for political purposes.
- It's currently unknown whether it'll be possible to develop technology that can quickly and accurately determine whether a given video is real or fake.
The future of deepfakes<p>In 2018, Gabon's president Ali Bongo had been out of the country for months receiving medical treatment. After Bongo hadn't been seen in public for months, rumors began swirling about his condition. Some suggested Bongo might even be dead. In response, Bongo's administration released a video that seemed to show the president addressing the nation.</p><p>But the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=324528215059254" target="_blank">video</a> is strange, appearing choppy and blurry in parts. After political opponents declared the video to be a deepfake, Gabon's military attempted an unsuccessful coup. What's striking about the story is that, to this day, experts in the field of deepfakes can't conclusively verify whether the video was real. </p><p>The uncertainty and confusion generated by deepfakes poses a "global problem," according to a <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/research/is-seeing-still-believing-the-deepfake-challenge-to-truth-in-politics/#cancel" target="_blank">2020 report from The Brookings Institution</a>. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense released some of the first tools able to successfully detect deepfake videos. The problem, however, is that deepfake technology keeps improving, meaning forensic approaches may forever be one step behind the most sophisticated forms of deepfakes. </p><p>As the 2020 report noted, even if the private sector or governments create technology to identify deepfakes, they will:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"...operate more slowly than the generation of these fakes, allowing false representations to dominate the media landscape for days or even weeks. "A lie can go halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on," warns David Doermann, the director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of Buffalo. And if defensive methods yield results short of certainty, as many will, technology companies will be hesitant to label the likely misrepresentations as fakes."</p>
Context is everything.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a number of new behaviours into daily routines, like physical distancing, mask-wearing and hand sanitizing. Meanwhile, many old behaviours such as attending events, eating out and seeing friends have been put on hold.
A new study looks at how images of coffee's origins affect the perception of its premiumness and quality.
- Images can affect how people perceive the quality of a product.
- In a new study, researchers show using virtual reality that images of farms positively influence the subjects' experience of coffee.
- The results provide insights on the psychology and power of marketing.