Can Virtual Bodyswapping Make Us More Empathetic and Tolerant?
Alex Pietrowski, Staff
An empathetic person is able to connect with other beings, human or other, on an emotional level, sometimes with such intensity that their own emotional state is affected. Certain individuals are called empaths – empathetic to such extreme that they feel or know another’s emotions just by being in their presence. Some believe that strong empaths are able to read other’s emotions because they have strong telepathic abilities, even if it’s unbeknownst to them, especially if they already have a strong personal bond.
At whatever level, empathy, similar to love, creates true bonds among us humans, as well as between us and other living beings such as animals. By cultivating your empathy towards other beings, you are likely to improve the quality of your life and the lives of the people around you. When you try to understand another person’s perspective, and then adapt your actions to their feelings, you will create more fulfilling and enduring relationships.
There are many methods one can use to expand their empathic potential, such as increasing curiosity about others, challenging personal prejudices, and learning to become a better listener. On a collective scale, if we work on creating a more empathetic society, it is possible that some of the injustices and anguish in this world will cease, similar to the anti-slavery movement, during which abolitionists helped people understand the true suffering of slaves. Indisputably, human empathy is a much-needed component in changing today’s societal problems such as racial and religious prejudices, brutal conditions of factory farms, chronic homelessness, drug addiction and crime, so forth.
Unfortunately, we grow up with prejudices so deeply engraved into our psyches that we often carry them with us, unknowingly, through adulthood. These biases are so instinctive and mechanical, and we are so wrapped up in our own lifestyle, that it is very difficult to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes. Could virtual bodyswapping help us rise above strong stereotypes and prejudiced beliefs etched into our minds?
New research recently published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences used virtual bodyswapping experiments to examine the brain’s ability to let go of negative attitudes towards others. In the experiment, conducted by Professor Manos Tsakiris of the Royal Holloway University of London and Professor Mel Slater of University College London and the University of Barcelona, light-skinned Caucasian participants occupied either a white or a black body in a virtual environment. The participants could see their virtual body in first-person when they looked down and when they were looking in a mirror. The participants’ racial biases were measured before and after the embodiment experiment. The researchers reported that participants who embodied a black virtual body showed a greater decrease in their implicit biases against black persons, when compared to participants who embodied a white virtual body.
“Our findings are important as they motivate a new research area into how self-identity is constructed and how the boundaries between ‘ingroups’ and ‘outgroups’ might be altered,” says Professor Tsakiris. “More importantly though, from a societal point of view, our methods and findings might help us understand how to approach phenomena such as racism, religious hatred, and gender inequality discrimination, since the methods offer the opportunity for people to experience the world from the perspective of someone different from themselves.” (Source)
There is no one method for erasing the biases that our childhood experiences and mainstream society have programmed into our minds. Cultivating empathy often means an individual journey of self-reflection, tearing down misconceptions, and increasing social tolerance. In the near future, virtual bodyswapping could be one of the methods that we employ to help us along this journey, and the collective journey towards a more peaceful humanity.
About the Author
Alex Pietrowski is an artist and writer concerned with preserving good health and the basic freedom to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. He is a staff writer for WakingTimes.com and an avid student of Yoga and life.
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