The Virtual Doppelganger: Effects of a Virtual Reality Simulator on Perceptions of Schizophrenia

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Abstract

Abstract:

Recent scholarship suggests that virtual environments can serve as effective proxies in battling implicit stereotypes. However, existing experimental research has rarely examined the effectiveness of virtual simulations of mental illnesses in inducing empathy to combat stereotypical responses. We report results from a 4-condition, between subjects experiment (N = 112), wherein participants were exposed to either a virtual simulation of schizophrenia, a written empathy-set induction of schizophrenia, a combination of both the simulation and written empathy conditions, or a control condition. The results indicated that the virtual simulation + empathy condition induced greater empathy and more positive perceptions toward people suffering from schizophrenia than the control or written empathy-set condition. Interestingly, the simulation-only condition resulted in the greatest desire for social distance whereas not significantly differing on empathy and attitude measures from either the written empathy or simulation + empathy conditions. We discuss the implications of the findings and recommend directions for future research.

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