FINAL PROJECT: Abstract and Reader's Reponse > Quantifying Empathy in Virtual Reality with fMRI

ABSTRACT: Virtual reality (VR) is rapidly becoming more available and practical with the recent introduction of consumer-marketed products such as the Oculus Rift and HTC VIVE. Significant differences in user experience distinguish head tracking VR from more traditional forms of display media such as photography and video, and consequently we expect to see novel psychological phenomena in response, particularly as related to feeling of realism, immersion, and empathy. New fMRI techniques enabling real time correction of free head movement present a promising method of quantifying these novel phenomena. This proposal will establish methods of VR stimulation under fMRI and their applicability to psychological and neurological study. In particular, the proposal will explore the activation of mirror-neuron and empathy producing systems of the brain, comparing their behavior under VR to their behavior in the presence of traditional media. This project intends to identify both directions and magnitudes of correlation by cross referencing results with patient experiences of immersion as quantified by self-report indices. The experiment will also identify regions of interest for future neurological study of empathy and virtual reality engagement, opening the doors to future research in the intersection of psychology and VR.


Reader: A skeptical cognitive neurologist.

Reader response: The methods outlined by this review appear to be unproven and experimental. It is unlikely the proposed methodology will produce valid information. Even if the results can be proven reliable it is uncertain what value there is to be gained here. VR does not appear sufficiently different from traditional media to necessitate a novel direction of research when the basic premise is well understood for traditional media.
May 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHZ

This looks interesting and plausible for the context we discussed. One possible question might concern the ultimate uses. Could this be therapeutic eventually? Does your frame of limitations include simply gather information about empathy, to look at baselines within these game or VR contexts? Do you also have a counseling or therapeutic frame?

(Your choice)

Also, you will need to include a paragraph in Institutional Review Board plans, because you propose working with human subjects. Look this up on the UMD website for guidance.
May 7, 2017 | Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea