Thursday, September 20, 2018
ApplicationVirtual Reality

How Virtual Reality Promotes Gender Equality

The power of virtual reality can be leveraged to reduce and even eliminate gender-biased behavior in everyday life.

Women and men around the world are showing solidarity with survivors of sexual harassment and assault. As the #MeToo movement matures, it continues to unveil painful truths about power and abuse.

The same goes for ‘Time’s Up’. As it broadens, it opens conversations about gender equality in the workplace. Aside from acknowledging these truths, we should come up with solutions to address these pressing problems.

To promote equality in our society, we all need to learn how to understand each other’s realities. We can leverage some of the latest technologies to move the gender equality conversation forward. Today, virtual reality shows promising applications that can help us think critically about gender roles, stereotypes, and diversity.

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The Power of Virtual Reality

Decades’ worth of research on engine-based VR gaming suggests that this burgeoning tech is capable of increasing users’ empathy. It’s powerful enough to influence users’ emotions and attitudes that this medium has been used successfully in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders. Patients exhibited positive effects, proving that VR is capable of influencing us on a subconscious level.

Technical aspects that go into the creation of virtual scenarios, such as high-resolution images and their appropriate framerate, provide sensory information for the perception system. The context and the immersive experience enables users to connect with their virtual environment, making them feel as if they’re physically there.

 

Understanding Other Perspectives

Cinematic virtual reality uses photorealistic documentary footage captured by 360-degree cameras. As viewers put on their VR headsets, they are able to select their preferred field of view by turning their heads.

One particular approach to CVR involves a split-sphere. One half of the 360-degree sphere shows the story from the perspective of, for example, a woman. The other half shows the story from the perspective of a man.

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Research conducted at Stanford University on the split-sphere 360-degree video shows that it increases viewers’ feeling of personal responsibility. Viewers can easily identify with the film’s female character. The study also suggests that stronger feelings of responsibility in advancing gender equality should empower more people to change existing gender-biased behaviors in everyday life.

The study used the award-winning film, UTURN. It follows the story of a female engineer who works for a tech startup in San Francisco. She is terrific at what she does, but she never gets recognized for it. She also doesn’t get the support of her male-dominated team. Male respondents were surprised about the persistent dismissal of the female protagonists. Several of them have never been in such suppressive scenarios before.

 

Experiencing Someone Else’s Life

BeAnotherLab, an art collective that aims to understand the relationship of empathy and identity through telepresence experiments, spent a modest amount on virtual reality equipment to create a setup where participants experience swapping bodies. Oculus Rift headsets power this new application that lets users step into someone else’s life. They also used second hand Playstation Eye cameras, laptops, and arduino-powered servos.  In this virtual world, you are able to look around and explore the reality of the other person. For instance, you get to experience what it’s like to be a mother of five kids. You get to experience their usual morning routine. You can look around, see what the kids are doing, or you can watch, through the mom’s eyes, how she juggles between cleaning bottles and making breakfast.

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Takeaway

Virtual reality enables people to gain a sense of empathy and responsibility. It can potentially reduce people’s implicit bias, and it also increases people’s respect towards the body they’re experimenting with. Though studies are still pretty limited, the gender swap and cinematic virtual reality experiments prove that virtual reality is capable of making people realize their roles in advancing gender equality.

Gergana Mileva
the authorGergana Mileva
Based in Prague, CZ, Geri is a freelance journalist and writer, focusing on technology, finance, and marketing.