Empathy is an integral part of the human condition. To put oneself into another’s shoes, so to speak, is to appreciate life. Violent criminals often have difficulty feeling empathy, and it’s what separates us from our closest animal relatives, the primates. One computer program hopes to spread this increasingly-less important human trait.
Working at the University of Barcelona, scientists used the seemingly-forgotten technological branch of virtual reality to simulate being a child. Historically, virtual reality has given the user sensations of ‘being’ the program’s subject. In a previous study, one participant simulated as a teenage girl reported physically feeling a slap by a simulated mother.
The scientists involved in the University of Barcelona’s study placed their subjects into either an adult body or one of a four-year-old boy. The amazing result was that those rendered as a child felt that simulated objects were twice the size, on average, than that of their adult counterparts. One supposition is that this study may help violent criminals, if placed under certain conditions, to feel more empathy when placed inside another body.