01/28/2015 08:17 am ET Updated Feb 04, 2015

Could Virtual Reality Make Us Better People?

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When we talk about digital media being more immersive, it's usually not good news for social skills. We worry about the kids. So when news first started coming out that virtual reality was making its way into universities and schools, some parents and pundits were, understandably, concerned. The idea of students at any age being encouraged to spend even more time in the digital world just seemed like another step on the road toward a future society filled with self-absorbed zombies, at turns aggressive and indifferent, lacking empathy and the ability to communicate with each other.

Recent and ongoing research, however, has found that immersive virtual reality scenarios—digital media that enables people to virtually experience something that feels more or less real—could actually encourage "pro-social" behaviors. Virtual reality has been shown to engender racial sensitivity in participants, as well as greater empathy for those with disabilities, respect for the environment, and an increased willingness to help others.

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