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      Virtual Reality Improves Emotional but Not Cognitive Empathy: A Meta-Analysis


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          Virtual Reality (VR) has been touted as an effective empathy intervention, with its most ardent supporters claiming it is “the ultimate empathy machine.” We aimed to determine whether VR deserves this reputation, using a random-effects meta-analysis of all known studies that examined the effect of virtual reality experiences on users’ empathy ( k = 43 studies, with 5,644 participants). The results indicated that many different kinds of VR experiences can increase empathy, however, there are important boundary conditions to this effect. Subgroup analyses revealed that VR improved emotional empathy, but not cognitive empathy. In other words, VR can arouse compassionate feelings but does not appear to encourage users to imagine other peoples’ perspectives. Further subgroup analyses revealed that VR was no more effective at increasing empathy than less technologically advanced empathy interventions such as reading about others and imagining their experiences. Finally, more immersive and interactive VR experiences were no more effective at arousing empathy than less expensive VR experiences such as cardboard headsets. Our results converge with existing research suggesting that different mechanisms underlie cognitive versus emotional empathy. It appears that emotional empathy can be aroused automatically when witnessing evocative stimuli in VR, but cognitive empathy may require more effortful engagement, such as using one’s own imagination to construct others’ experiences. Our results have important practical implications for nonprofits, policymakers, and practitioners who are considering using VR for prosocial purposes. In addition, we recommend that VR designers develop experiences that challenge people to engage in empathic effort.

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          Meta-analysis in clinical trials

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            The weirdest people in the world?

            Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world's top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers - often implicitly - assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these "standard subjects" are as representative of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species - frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Many of these findings involve domains that are associated with fundamental aspects of psychology, motivation, and behavior - hence, there are no obvious a priori grounds for claiming that a particular behavioral phenomenon is universal based on sampling from a single subpopulation. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity. We close by proposing ways to structurally re-organize the behavioral sciences to best tackle these challenges.
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              Trim and Fill: A Simple Funnel-Plot-Based Method of Testing and Adjusting for Publication Bias in Meta-Analysis


                Author and article information

                Technology, Mind, and Behavior
                American Psychological Association
                June 17, 2021
                : 2
                : 1
                [1]Department of Psychology, The New School for Social Research
                [2]Department of Communication, Stanford University
                [3]Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Indiana University
                [4]Institute for Advanced Study, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, United States
                [5]National Human Genome Research Institute, Bethesda, United States
                Author notes
                Action Editor: Danielle S. McNamara was the action editor for this article.
                Alison Jane Martingano is now at the National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH.
                Sara Konrath was funded by a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service while writing this manuscript (17REHIN002). Alison Jane Martingano’s dissertation research, of which this study comprised, was funded by the Zolberg Foundation for Migration and Mobility.
                We have no known conflicts of interest to disclose.
                Open Science Disclosures:

                The preregistered design and analysis plan is accessible at https://aspredicted.org/yw59d.pdf

                [*] Alison Jane Martingano, National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH, 31 Center Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892, United States alisonjane.martingano@nih.gov
                Author information
                © 2021 The Author(s)

                This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC-BY-NC-ND). This license permits copying and redistributing the work in any medium or format for noncommercial use provided the original authors and source are credited and a link to the license is included in attribution. No derivative works are permitted under this license.


                Education,Psychology,Vocational technology,Engineering,Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry
                perspective-taking,meta-analysis,virtual reality,empathy


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