Does immersion yield empathy? The aim of this report is to address the question of whether news media—in this instance, short-form journalistic stories—presented in a 360-degree video format affects a user’s empathetic response to the material. If so, what might the advantage of such a response be, and could it include improvement in a viewer’s ability to recall the content over time or a resulting behavioral change? Naturally, part of the study will deconstruct what we mean by such a nebulous term as “empathetic” and how exactly it can be measured.
The study both investigates if particular audiences are likely to respond empathetically to certain narratives and analyzes the component parts of immersive experiences—comfort level, interactivity, and perceived amount of user agency—that contribute to producing an empathetic response. It also aims to answer whether the virtual reality (VR) format is better suited to particular stories or audiences, as well as the potential for unintended, antithetical effects in this embryonic medium such as a user’s perception of personal space invasion or the feeling that they are not looking in the right direction.1
Results from our study of 180 people viewing five-minute treatments comprised of either 360-degree video or text articles monitored user reactions and their sense of immersion on the day of their first exposure to the narrative treatment, as well as two and five weeks later.