Virtual Reality not for “being someone” but for “being in someone else’s shoes”: Avoiding misconceptions in empathy enhancement

Frontiers in Psychology 12:3674 (2021)
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Erick J. Ramirez, Miles Elliott and Per‑Erik Milam (2021) have recently claimed that using Virtual Reality (VR) as an educational nudge to promote empathy is unethical. These authors argue that the influence exerted on the participant through virtual simulation is based on the deception of making them believe that they are someone else when this is impossible. This makes the use of VR for empathy enhancement a manipulative strategy in itself. In this article, we show that Ramirez et al.’s ethical rejection of empathy enhancement through VR is based on confusion. First, we show that this misunderstanding stems from the conception of empathy-enhancing simulations solely as failed attempts at “being someone else,” along with ignoring the crucial difference between the psychological perspective-taking processes of imagine-other and imagine-self. Then, having overcome that misconception, we argue that the ethical misgivings about the use of VR to promote empathy should disappear and that these projects have greater potential for behavioural change than purely sympathy-focused interventions.

Author Profiles

Francisco Lara
University of Granada
Jon Rueda
University of Granada


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