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Improving empathy: is virtual reality an effective approach to educating about refugees?

Citation: Alberghini, Diana (2020) Improving empathy: is virtual reality an effective approach to educating about refugees? [Discussion or working paper]


Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Prompted by the need to educate host communities about refugees as a way to promote a two-way process of integration, this dissertation is an empirical investigation into the use of virtual reality in the context of education about refugees. In particular, it focuses on the question of whether virtual reality could effectively foster empathy towards refugees. The emphasis on empathy is motivated by two main reasons: first, empathy can be taught and, second, it can lead to altruism. Inspired by the success of the 360-degree video Clouds Over Sidra, which helped virtual reality earn the title of ‘empathy machine’, this study asked 107 middle and high school students to watch the above-mentioned Clouds Over Sidra and the multimodal video Step into a Refugee Camp and compare the two media experiences. Overall, the results indicated VR’s immersive quality can enhance compelling content by eliciting both emotional and cognitive empathy and help develop perspective-taking capacities. They also demonstrated that, at least in the short term, the empathic reaction stimulated some forms of altruism expressed in the commitment to offer a personal contribution to improve the refugees’ situation.

Creators: Alberghini, Diana and
Subjects: Philosophy
Sociology & Anthropology
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Keywords: education, two-way integration, empathy, virtual reality, altruism, responsibility, refugees
Divisions: Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Refugee Law Initiative
  • 16 January 2020 (published)


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