Researching Empathy In VR With Cognitive Science

Researching Empathy In VR With Cognitive Science
November 22, 2017

Cognitive scientist and phenomenologist Lynda Joy Gerry got into virtual reality after seeing the body swap experiments by Machine to Be Another as well as Shawn Gallager’s A Neurophenomenology of Awe and Wonder research. Gerry’s master’s thesis was on empathy in VR where she did a survey of the established theories on empathy from cognitive science, social science, phenomenology, and virtual reality.




I had a chance to talk with Gerry at the IEEE VR academic conference in March where she was presenting her research on empathy in VR, and advocating for a more holistic framework for empathy research that bridges the objective theories of empathy from cognitive science with the more subjective, intersubjective, and experiential perspectives from the philosophical branch of phenomenology.


Center for Subjectivity Research at the University of Copenhagen

Multisensory Experience Lab at the University of Copenhagen

- Gerry’s Master thesis: Virtual Reality as a Tool to Facilitate Empathy: Embodied Simulations and Perspective Taking in the Body of Another

- Errol Morris’ First Person & his Interrotron interview technique


- Claire Petitmengin’s Elicitation Interview Technique

- Claire Petitmengin’s Microphenomenology techniques to get people to attenuate to their experience in a very detailed manner

- Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, & Eleanor Rosch’s The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience

- Husserl’s concept of ‘objectivity’ as a form of Universal Intersubjective Verifiability

- Theories of Cognition: Embodied Cognition, Ecological Psychology, Situated Cognition, Distributed Cognition

Virtual Alterity – Gerry’s term for stepping into modes of experience as experienced by someone else

Frédérique de Vignemont & the Body, Space, and the Self research group

Dan Zahavi: Emotional contagion, empathy, and emotional sharing

- Shaun Gallagher: Philosophy in Virtual Environments

- Shaun Gallagher: A Neurophenomenology of Awe and Wonder

- Leonard Shlain: The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image

Lambros Malafouris: How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement

Kim Krizan in Waking Life

Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Reflexivity: Lived body experience is both interior and exterior.

Phenomenology, Imagination, and Virtual Reality conference in Leuven that took place on May 29-30, 2017

A Machine to Be Another

- Thomas Metzinger’s mind wandering and mental autonomy: “The myth of cognitive agency: subpersonal thinking as a cyclically recurring loss of mental autonomy.” Gerry expanded this into reflected and unreflected notions of mental autonomy


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Music: Fatality

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