Virtual Reality Approach

What is a virtual reality approach?

The virtual reality (VR) approach uses virtual simulations to allow users to gain different “embodied perspectives”, explore decision-making, and practice skills in a hyper-real environment. Many of us have had the opportunity to explore a virtual world through gaming as they are becoming more commonplace.

Why use a virtual reality approach to engage men?

Because it mimics real world situations in compelling ways that can help us to understand others’ points of view. Virtual reality is a powerful way to activate empathy, a key ingredient in behaviour change.

Virtual environments can also help men safely practice behaviours and experience the consequences of their actions.

What are the most promising ways to use a virtual reality approach?

Use the power of perspective. Especially the perspective of victims. The ability to empathize with another’s perspective is a skill that is often socialized out of men from an early age.

Show real-life consequences because research demonstrates that understanding future consequences can impact our present decisions. BUT, make sure you also give men a safe place to make mistakes as they learn to become allies.

You can also use virtual reality approaches to augment other efforts, for example, using virtual reality for bystander training.

What is an example of putting a virtual reality approach into practice?

A study in Spain used virtual reality to understand possible ways to disrupt harmful behaviours in group scenarios.

The study looked at whether an embodied victim perspective (i.e., male participants experiencing sexual harassment from the perspective of a woman being harassed) would break the in-group solidarity with the virtual males.

In the study, a group of all-male participants were placed in an immersive VR experience in one of three conditions:

a. The participant is among a group of males at a bar where a male is sexually harassing a female; the participant is then embodied as the female victim who is being sexually harassed in the bar scenario;

b. The same initial scenario, but the participant is embodied as one of the men who witnesses the female being harassed; or

c. The participant just experiences an empty bar with no sexual harassment.

One week later, participants were placed in another immersive VR experience. This time, participants were encouraged to give shocks to a female student by a group of three virtual males, the same men that engaged in sexual harassment in part one of the study. (This scenario is similar to the one in Milgram’s famous obedience study).

The study found that participants who were in the female embodiment condition were more likely to stop administering shocks than those in the male embodiment condition, and they administered half the number of shocks in total.

This evidence strongly suggests that virtual reality approaches could help prevent behaviours like sexual harassment that occur in group settings.

What else should I know before implementing virtual reality approaches?

This research is in its infancy. We have a lot more to learn.

Read more about virtual reality approaches:

In addition to the Shift research reports listed earlier, the following resources offer further information on virtual reality approaches: