VR doesn’t make you more empathetic

Virtual Reality wordt wel de empathiemachine genoemd, een tech die enorme kracht heeft om ons meer empathisch te maken. Maar Paul Bloom betwijfeld dat in dit artikel voor The Atlantic:

The problem is that these experiences aren’t fundamentally about the immediate physical environments. The awfulness of the refugee experience isn’t about the sights and sounds of a refugee camp; it has more to do with the fear and anxiety of having to escape your country and relocate yourself in a strange land. Homeless people are often physically ill, sometimes mentally ill, with real anxieties about their future. You can’t tap into that feeling by putting a helmet on your head.  Nobody thinks that going downtown without your wallet will make you appreciate poverty—why should these simulations do any better?

One specific limitation of VR involves safety and control.  During the debates over the interrogation practices of the United States during the Iraq war, some adventurous journalists and public figures asked to be waterboarded, to see what it was like. They typically reported that it was awful. But in fact their experience fell far short of how terrible actual waterboarding is, because part of what makes waterboarding so bad is that you get it when you don’t want it, by people who won’t stop when you ask them to. Safety and control transform unpleasant experiences into loads of fun, which is why we pay to play war games and have paintball battles, get frightened by shrieking maniacs in a haunted house, or engage in certain masochistic sexual activities.

Then there is duration. It’s not hard to try out certain short-term experiences, such as dealing with a crying baby for a few minutes, sitting alone in a closet, or having strangers gawk at you on the street. But you can’t extrapolate from these to learn what it’s like to be a single parent, a prisoner in solitary confinement, or a famous movie star. You can’t take an event of minutes and hours and generalize to months and years.

Why not? One consideration is that some experiences are fine in the short-term, but wear you down over time. Solitary confinement is an obvious example here. Or consider subtle forms of sexual and racial discrimination—certain seemingly minor attacks on one’s dignity are easy to shrug off in any single instance, but if they are repeated and relentless, they can lead to anxiety and depression.