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Cow Simulator (2016)

Ahn, S. J., Bostick, J., Ogle, E., Nowak, K., McGillicuddy, K., & Bailenson, J. N. (2016). Experiencing nature: Embodying animals in immersive virtual environments increases inclusion of nature in self and involvement with nature. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

This paper reviews a series of experiments undertaken by a team of researchers at Stanford Universities Virtual Reality Labs. The experiments aim to build inter-species empathy through a process of perception taking exercises facilitated through virtual environments.  The paper reviews the findings of the tests which involve embodying a cow and coral. The first experiment the user embodies a cow which is taken to slaughter, and the second the coral is effected by ocean acidity.

There are two useful sections to this study to help progress my work. The first is an evaluation process of the experience using a pictorial scale of 7  Venn diagrams based on Schultz (2001) study. This could help to find an evaluation method for other inter-species work.

The second was the exploration of the process of perception taking to promote empathy which is based on Batson’s work as a psychologist. This is a recurring theorist who could help my thesis develop and help to underpin what i mean by empathy.

In the cow virtual reality experience, participants walked around a virtual pasture on all fours, were jabbed by a cattle prod, and told they were to be loaded on to a truck

Useful Quotes

“the process of perspective taking, the mental simulation of a situation by placing oneself in the shoes of another via imagination (Batson et al., 1997). Perspective taking has been shown to facilitate a variety of favorable outcomes including helping (Batson et al.,
1981), stereotype reduction (Batson et al., 1997), and improved interpersonal communication (Fussell & Krauss, 1989).” (p2)

“Just as perspective taking increases feelings of empathy and helping behavior in interpersonal interactions, we anticipate that taking the perspective of animals will promote caring for nature and the environment” (p2)

“Allowing people to personally experience environmental problems can reduce perceived temporal distance and lead people to see them as more critical than reading mere descriptions of problems (Rajecki, 1982)” (p2-3)

“When people take the perspective of a person or animal, this leads to an increased mental overlap of the self and other, which induces feelings of closeness and empathy and increases helping intentions and behaviors (Coke, Batson, & McDavis, 1978; Goldstein & Cialdini, 2007). Feeling connected with nature should follow the same process: If individuals can be encouraged to take the perspective of nature and consider nature as a part of their self identities, they are likely to feel closer, empathic, and more immersed with nature, resulting in proenvironmental attitudes and behaviors (Clayton et al., 2014; Hartmann & Apaolaza-Ibáñez, 2008, 2009; Liu, Bonzon-Liu, & Pierce-Guarino, 1997; Mayer & Frantz, 2004).” (p3)

“perspective taking is a controlled, effortful process that requires substantial cognitive
resources (Davis et al., 1996). Outside of the controlled laboratory setting, individuals may not be willing to expend valuable cognitive energy to the perspective of animals, particularly if they are fatigued or are unfamiliar with the environmental issue (Gehlbach, Brinkworth, & Wang, 2012; Hodges & Klein, 2001).” (p3)

“providing stimuli that are more similar to direct experiences will have a stronger impact on empathy” (p3)

“the novel affordance of body transfer offers participants the realistic illusion of body ownership, that a person has become the virtual body (Slater et al., 2010). Body transfer can be induced when an individual feels a body part being touched as he or she watches an external entity being touched; the brain assigns the perception of ownership to the visible entity being touched rather than the actual body part being touched (Botvinick & Cohen, 1998).” (p4)

“We predict this process will present greater challenges than body transfer into virtual humans due to perceived dissimilarities between humans and animals and the lack of schema for experiencing the world as an animal.” (p4)

“Because IVEs allow individuals to put themselves inside the virtual body of an animal, they would directly feel the threats it is up against and feel connected to its plight. For instance, sharing the experience of body transfer of oneself to the cow’s virtual body would clearly help people understand how a cow would feel being raised for its meat” (p4)

“We adopted Schultz’s (2001) measure to gauge how much individuals felt interconnected with nature. The single-item, 7-point pictorial scale uses a series of seven overlapping Venn diagram circles, one circle labeled self and the other labeled cow. Participants chose the picture that best described how interconnected he or she felt with the virtual cow” (p8)

“Because IVEs offer a wider array of sensory information than video, allowing users to see, hear, and feel environmental damage, participants perceived greater spatial presence and felt that their experiences as an animal were more genuine than watching a video of the same experience” (p13)

“The studies reported here take the investigation of perspective taking to a new level by allowing participants to go beyond imagining the perspective of the cow or coral. Participants felt ownership of the virtual animal’s body and perceived a mental merging of the self and nature. The current study is one of the first efforts to extend the applicability of the concept of self-other merging outside interpersonal (including virtual humans) interactions.” (p13)

“body transfer should be considered in future studies that explore the use of perspective-taking to induce environmental attitudes and behaviors, particularly when using advanced digital technologies” (p13)

“On the surface, the variables of body transfer and INS may seem similar. However, conceptual definitions delineate clear differences: Body transfer refers to the perception of physical ownership over another body, whereas INS is more related to the perception of the self as an integral part of nature—a state of self-nature merging” (p14)

Further Reading

Ahn, S. J., Bailenson, J. N., & Park, D. (2014). Short- and long-term effects of embodied experiences in immersive virtual environments on environmental locus of control and behavior. Computers in Human Behavior, 39, 235–245. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2014.07.025

Ahn, S. J., Fox, J., Dale, K. R., & Avant, J. A. (2015). Framing virtual experiences: Effects on
environmental efficacy and behavior over time. Communication Research, 42(6), 839–863. doi: 10.1177/0093650214534973

Ahn, S. J., Le, A. M. T., & Bailenson, J. N. (2013). The effect of embodied experiences on self-other merging, attitude, and helping behavior. Media Psychology, 16, 7–38. doi:

Batson, C. D. (1991). The altruism question: Toward a social-psychological answer. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Batson, C. D., Polycarpou, M. P., Harmon-Jones, E., Imhoff, H. J., Mitchener, E. C., Bednar, L. L., et al. (1997). Empathy and attitudes: Can feeling for a member of a stigmatized group improve feelings toward that group? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 105–118. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.72.1.105

Batson, C. D., Duncun, B. D., Ackerman, P., Buckley, T., & Birch, K. (1981). Is empathic emotion a source of altruistic motivation? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 290–302. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.40.2.290

Berenguer, J. (2007). The effect of empathy in proenvironmental attitudes and behaviors. Environment and Behavior, 39, 269–283. doi: 10.1177/0013916506292937

Coke, J. S., Batson, C. D., & McDavis, K. (1978). Empathic mediation of helping: A two-stage model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 752–766. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.73.3.481

Fussell, S. R., & Krauss, R. M. (1989). The effects of intended audience on message production and comprehension: Reference in a common ground framework. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 25, 203–219. doi: 10.1016/0022-1031(89)90019-X

Goldstein, N. J., & Cialdini, R. B. (2007). The spyglass self: A model of vicarious self-perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 402–417. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.92.3.402

Hartmann, P., & Apaolaza-Ibáñez, V. (2009). Green advertising revisited: Conditioning virtual nature experiences. International Journal of Advertising, 28(4), 715–739.

Hartmann, T., Wirth, W., Schramm, H., Klimmt, C., Vorderer, P., Gysbers, A., Böcking, S., Ravaja, N., Laarni, J., Saari, T., Gouveia, F., & Sacau, A. (in press). The Spatial Presence Experience Scale (SPES): A short self-report measure for diverse media settings. Journal of Media Psychology

Hodges, S. D. & Klein, K. (2001). Regulating the costs of empathy: the price of being human. Journal of Socio-Economics, 30, 437–452. doi:10.1016/S1053-5357(01)00112-3

Pahl S., & Bauer, J. (2013). Overcoming the distance: Perspective taking with future humans improves environmental engagement. Environment and Behavior, 45, 155–169. doi: 10.1177/0013916511417618

Schultz, P. W. (2000). Empathizing with nature: The effects of perspective taking on concern for environmental issues. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 391–406.

Schultz, P. W. (2001). The structure of environmental concern: Concern for self, others and the biosphere. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 21, 327–339.

Sevillano, V., Aragones, J. I., & Schultz, P. W. (2007). Perspective taking, environmental concern, and the moderating role of dispositional empathy. Environment and Behavior, 39, 685–705. doi: 10.1177/0013916506292334

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