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Walking in small shoes: Investigating the power of VR on empathising with children's difficulties

Vanessa Camilleri, Matthew Montebello, Alexiei Dingli, Vince Briffa


Virtual Reality may offer a solution to the experiential gap that exists between the virtual and the physical realms. When the experience includes empathic emotions, it may be more difficult to simulate, more so when the user has no previous associations to the conditions replicated in the VR. In this paper we describe a works-in-progress project, that aims to immerse the VR user into the world of a child diagnosed with autism as that child goes through the daily school activities. We exploit VR affordances through virtual embodiment and make use of high interaction fidelity techniques where we show reality in as closely a manner as possible, to the physical class environment. Realistic interaction techniques allow the user to relate to an alternate form of reality to which she has been used. The project which has been piloted in the form of a VR app running on Gear VR has been distributed amongst teachers, learning support assistants and parents of children diagnosed with autism. A pre-and post-experience survey giving a self-reported measure of empathy has indicated a positive impact on the users. Following this, future work is leading us towards the inclusion of neuroscientific measures to understand the brain activity during the actual VR experience.