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The Effect of Embodied Experiences on Self-Other Merging, Attitude, and Helping Behavior

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Immersive virtual environment technology (IVET) provides users with vivid sensory information that allow them to embody another person's perceptual experiences. Three experiments explored whether embodied experiences via IVET would elicit greater self-other merging, favorable attitudes, and helping toward persons with disabilities compared to traditional perspective taking, which relies on imagination to put the self in another person's shoes. Trait dispositions to feel concern for others was tested as a moderating variable. Participants in the embodied experiences (EE) condition were exposed to a red-green colorblind simulation using IVET while participants in the perspective taking (PT) condition were exposed to a normal colored IVET world and instructed to imagine being colorblind. Experiment 1 compared EE against PT and found that EE was effective for participants with lower tendencies to feel concern for others 24 hours after treatment. Experiment 2 delved further into the underlying process of EE and confirmed that a heightened sense of realism during the EE led to greater self-other merging compared to PT. Finally, Experiment 3 demonstrated that the effect of EE transferred into the physical world, leading participants to voluntarily spend twice as much effort to help persons with colorblindness compared to participants who had only imagined being colorblind.
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Media Psychology, 16:7–38, 2013
Copyright ©Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1521-3269 print/1532-785X online
DOI: 10.1080/15213269.2012.755877
The Effect of Embodied Experiences on
Self-Other Merging, Attitude, and
Helping Behavior
SUN JOO (GRACE) AHN
Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Georgia,
Athens, Georgia, USA
AMANDA MINH TRAN LE
Metaio, Inc., San Francisco, California, USA
JEREMY BAILENSON
Department of Communication, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA
Immersive virtual environment technology (IVET) provides users
with vivid sensory information that allow them to embody an-
other person’s perceptual experiences. Three experiments explored
whether embodied experiences via IVET would elicit greater self-
other merging, favorable attitudes, and helping toward persons
with disabilities compared to traditional perspective taking, which
relies on imagination to put the self in another person’s shoes.
Trait dispositions to feel concern for others was tested as a mod-
erating variable. Participants in the embodied experiences (EE)
condition were exposed to a red-green colorblind simulation using
IVET while participants in the perspective taking (PT) condition
were exposed to a normal colored IVET world and instructed
to imagine being colorblind. Experiment 1 compared EE against
PT and found that EE was effective for participants with lower
tendencies to feel concern for others 24 hours after treatment.
Experiment 2 delved further into the underlying process of EE and
confirmed that a heightened sense of realism during the EE led to
greater self-other merging compared to PT. Finally, Experiment 3
demonstrated that the effect of EE transferred into the physical
world, leading participants to voluntarily spend twice as much
effort to help persons with colorblindness compared to participants
who had only imagined being colorblind.
Address correspondence to Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn, University of Georgia, Grady College
of Journalism & Mass Communication, 120 Hooper Street, Athens, GA 30602-3018. E-mail:
sjahn@uga.edu
7
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8S. J. Ahn et al.
‘‘Tell me Craig, why do you like puppeteering?’’
‘‘Well Maxine, I’m not sure exactly. Perhaps the idea of becoming some-
one else for a little while. Being inside another skin—thinking differ-
ently, moving differently, feeling differently.’’ –Craig Schwartz, Being John
Malkovich
This quote from a 1999 fantasy film, Being John Malkovich, refers to a mental
process called perspective taking. In this film, people enter a portal that leads
into the mind of John Malkovich and see, hear, and feel through his body,
using Malkovich’s body as a live puppet. The portal in the film is a fantastical
depiction of the cognitive process of perspective taking, or imagining oneself
in the shoes of another. Psychologists have discovered that perspective
taking encourages a host of favorable outcomes, such as stereotype reduction
(Batson et al., 1997) learning (Siegler, 1995), and improved interpersonal
communication (Fussell & Krauss, 1989).
Despite the benefits of perspective taking, mentally putting oneself in
the shoes of another requires extensive cognitive effort (Hoffman, 1982)
and individuals may differ in their ability and motivation to engage in this
activity (Davis and Kraus, 1997; Gehlbach, 2004). This article proposes using
immersive virtual environment technology (IVET) to enable individuals to
easily and effectively experience the world from another person’s point of
view. With novel affordances such as multisensory inputs and naturalistic
control of point of view, IVET allows for a literal demonstration of climbing
into another person’s skin to embody his or her experiences first hand.
Vivid, multilayer perceptual information simulated by digital devices enable
individuals to see, hear, and feel as if they were undergoing the sensory
experiences in the physical world—what we call ‘‘embodied experiences.’’
Using IVET, embodied experiences allow the user to experience the closest
realization of the portal to enter another person’s mind and body.
Our main focus of investigation was on the potential of embodied
experiences through IVET to foster greater self-other merging with persons
with disabilities; increase favorable attitude toward them; and assess whether
the influence of these experiences could transfer to the physical world,
leading to actual helping behavior. These effects were compared against
traditional perspective taking methods that rely on imagination to assess the
strengths and weaknesses of embodied experiences through IVET.
PERSPECTIVE TAKING, A CATALYST TO
HELPING BEHAVIOR
Humans are social animals who spend much of their lives interacting with
others. Perspective taking facilitates social interaction by helping people
establish common grounds and infer shared knowledge and beliefs between
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Embodied Experiences 9
interactants (Krauss & Fussell, 1991). Scholars argue that humans are hard-
wired to help others in need, as are few other large-brained species such
as orangutans or dolphins (de Waal, 2008). It has been demonstrated that
sharing the same basis of feelings and thoughts of another person through
perspective-taking can even lead to costly self-sacrifice during helping (Bat-
son, 1991; de Waal, 2008).
People often engage in perspective taking through mentally merging the
self with the other, a process in which the other is considered to be more self-
like. For instance, upon being instructed to take the perspective of a stranger,
individuals demonstrated a tendency to project positive self-relevant traits to
the stranger and used the positive self-traits to describe him or her (Davis,
Conklin, Smith, & Luce, 1996). Much in the same way, instructing individuals
to take the perspective of a member of a certain social category (e.g., elderly)
led them to describe that member with trait words that they used to describe
themselves (Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000). Cialdini, Brown, Lewis, Luce,
and Neuberg (1997) suggested this merging is enhanced when individuals
recognize cues related to genetic relatedness or close attachment, and Aron,
Aron, and Smollan (1992) proposed that people in close relationships such
as spouse or family have highly overlapping mental representations of one
another.
This phenomenon can be mimicked even with unfamiliar persons by
establishing close attachment cues via perspective taking. Cialdini and col-
leagues (1997) termed this sense of shared identity through self-other merg-
ing as oneness, and demonstrated that when individuals are led to feel
oneness with another person via perspective taking, greater intentions for
helping emerge. Goldstein and Cialdini (2007) also went on to show that
when oneness is heightened through perspective taking, individuals begin
to behave as the other person would, and that this change in behavior is
fully mediated by self-other merging.
However, perspective taking is a controlled, effortful process that re-
quires substantial cognitive resources (Davis et al., 1996) and can be chal-
lenging to achieve. When individuals fail to understand and share the other
person’s thoughts and feelings through perspective taking, they will not
engage in helping behavior unless there are clear benefits from helping
(Batson, 1991). The cognitive challenge of perspective taking may be even
less appealing when individuals have low motivation to engage in an effortful
mental task (Gehlbach, Brinkworth, & Wang, 2012; Hodges & Klein, 2001;
Webster, Richter, & Kruglanski, 1996).
Even if a person attempts to take on the cognitive challenge of per-
spective taking to mentally put themselves in another person’s shoes, he or
she may fail to fully grasp the urgency or the reality of the other person’s
situation. For instance, it has been demonstrated that people underestimated
how thirsty they would be after exercising when they were asked to merely
use their imagination. But when they were asked to make the same estima-
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10 S. J. Ahn et al.
tion after an actual exercise session, they expressed a significant increase
in their estimation of how much they would crave water in similar future
situations (Van Boven & Loewenstein, 2003). Regardless of best efforts to
put themselves in the situation, people generally have a difficult time fully
appreciating the true nuances of the situation unless they are living the
situation in that moment. This article explores how IVET may aid people
to overcome such shortcomings of perspective taking by allowing them to
experience the vivid nuances of another person’s situation, and how that
may lead to more favorable outcomes than traditional perspective taking.
EMBODIED EXPERIENCES THROUGH IMMERSIVE
VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT TECHNOLOGY
IVET is a mediated environment simulated by digital computer technolo-
gies that blur the distinction between reality and its virtual representations
(Blascovich et al., 2002). The system used for the current experiments was
comprised of a head-mounted display (HMD), a headpiece with screens
that provide a stereoscopic view of the computer-generated world, and de-
vices that track physical movements of the head in three-dimensional space.
Stereoscopic view enables users to see depth. Users also had head-controlled
point of view, meaning that they were able to look around naturally in the
virtual world as they would in the physical world.
These novel affordances offer an innovative way to facilitate perspective
taking by allowing the user to experience vivid sensory information firsthand.
With rich layers of sensory information, users feel a high sense of presence,
or the perception that the mediated virtual environment is real (Loomis,
1992; Slater & Wilbur, 1997). Biocca (1997) notes that, by digitally recreating
and extending the human sensory capabilities, virtual stimuli lead the mind
to temporarily accept the illusion of sufficiently realistic experiences. Real
experiences in the physical world become associated and stored with existing
memories and these memories are later activated and recalled when the
individual encounters or thinks about similar stimuli (Barsalou, 2009). In
much the same way, the realism of virtual experiences is likely to produce
mental schema about the simulated event as if he or she had firsthand
experience of it, to be recalled later when necessary.
The concept of putting oneself in another’s shoes to vicariously share
experiences using media is not new. Even a print medium that presents no
simulated sensory information can feel relatively realistic when an individual
becomes deeply engaged (Green, 2004; Green, Brock, & Kaufman, 2004).
However, no other medium to date has been able to replicate the degree
of realism that IVETs offer. Furthermore, research exploring the potential of
applying IVETs to perspective taking has been sparse and is even more so
for motivating helping behavior.
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Embodied Experiences 11
Earlier IVET studies have investigated the effect of embodying only the
physical traits of another person and found that it modifies behavior (Yee
& Bailenson, 2007). Termed the ‘‘Proteus Effect,’’ results demonstrated that
spending several minutes in a virtual world embodying a tall virtual self-
representation (i.e., an avatar) led participants to choose more aggressive
strategies in a negotiation task compared to participants who were given
short avatars. Similarly, participants given attractive avatars were more con-
fident in interacting with a stranger compared to those given unattractive
avatars (Yee & Bailenson, 2009; Yee, Bailenson, & Ducheneaut, 2009).
Kalyanaraman, Penn, Ivory, and Judge (2010) conducted a relevant
study that motivated the current experiments, comparing the embodiment
of schizophrenic experiences in a virtual schizophrenia simulator that simu-
lated visual and auditory hallucinations against traditional manipulations of
perspective taking. They compared four different conditions—perspective
taking instructions only; virtual simulation only; both perspective taking
instructions and virtual simulation; and a control condition that did not re-
ceive either treatment. Results indicated that having participants think about
schizophrenia through perspective taking as well as having them experience
the simulation was more effective in terms of constructing more favorable
attitudes toward persons with schizophrenia compared to participants who
engaged in just the virtual simulation or just perspective taking. This seems
to be a different process of self-other merging than the process of self-
perception as suggested by the Proteus Effect (Yee & Bailenson, 2009),
which would anticipate that participants would act in a manner similar to a
schizophrenic person after the virtual simulation. The current experiments
aim to advance these findings by exploring the process of self-other merging
elicited by embodied experiences through IVET in the context of disabilities,
more specifically red-green colorblindness.
Moreover, self-report measures might not be sufficient evidence to con-
clude that helping behaviors will be exhibited as a result of perspective
taking. We attempted to go beyond assessing the effect of embodied expe-
riences based solely on surveys and gauged actual helping behavior. Earlier
work exploring the power of embodied experiences in IVET demonstrated
behavioral changes in terms of paper conservation (Ahn, 2011). However,
helping a person is contextually different from helping the environment and
may lead to unforeseen differences.
Finally, perspective taking is a cognitive activity, subject to individual
differences in capacity and ability. Some people are inherently more likely
to feel concern for another person in need (Matthews, Batson, Horn, &
Rosenman, 1981; Rushton, Fulkner, Neale, Nias, & Eysenck, 1986). Not only
does this individual difference in predisposition to care for others influence
their tendency to engage in perspective taking (Davis, Luce, & Kraus, 1994),
but it also impacts how individuals respond to IVET simulations; that is,
individuals predisposed to feel greater concern for others tend to experience
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12 S. J. Ahn et al.
higher levels of presence and feel that the virtual world is real (Sas, 2004;
Sas & O’Hare, 2003; Wallach, Safir, & Samana, 2010). Thus, the current
experiments will also take trait differences in feeling concern for others into
account as a potential moderator.
OVERVIEW OF EXPERIMENTS
Three experiments compared traditional perspective taking against embod-
ied experiences using IVET. Red-green colorblindness, a visual disability
that causes the inability to perceive differences between red and green,
was chosen as the context of perspective taking in all three experiments
to simulate a novel experience to control for the confounding effects of
prior experience. Thus, the question of interest was whether embodied
experiences would better promote greater self-other merging compared to
traditional perspective taking in an unfamiliar situation with an unfamiliar
person. In addition, the experiments sought to measure attitude change in
terms of reduced prejudice against persons with red-green colorblindness.
Most importantly, we were ultimately interested in the possibility of encour-
aging actual helping behavior; that is, the current experiments aimed to
investigate whether embodied experiences within the virtual environment
would be powerful enough to transfer the effects into the physical world
in the form of providing actual help toward people with red-green color-
blindness. Individual predisposition to feel concern for others was included
in all three experiments to study how it moderates the effects of embodied
experiences or perspective taking.
Experiment 1 was an exploratory investigation that pitted embodied
experiences against traditional perspective taking. The main aim of the first
experiment was to test the effectiveness of embodied experiences using
IVET and whether it would outperform traditional perspective taking in
terms of self-other merging (i.e., oneness), attitude toward persons with
colorblindness, and actual helping behavior. Building on these results, Ex-
periment 2 delved into underlying mechanisms to study the process of self-
other merging in greater detail. The main aim of the second experiment
was to discover the element of embodied experiences that set it apart from
traditional perspective taking. Finally, Experiment 3 leveraged some insights
from the first two studies and improved the measure of helping people with
red-green colorblindness.
In all three experiments, all participants first received basic informa-
tion about red-green colorblindness. Participants assigned to the embodied
experience condition wore a HMD with a colorblind filter applied over
the objects on the screen, which allowed them to accurately experience
being red-green colorblind. Participants assigned to the perspective tak-
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Embodied Experiences 13
ing condition also wore the HMD but viewed the screen in normal colors
while being told to mentally put themselves in the shoes of the colorblind
individual.
EXPERIMENT 1
Experiment 1 explored the effectiveness of embodied experiences by com-
paring traditional perspective taking (PT) against embodied experiences (EE).
Based on the discussion above regarding cognitive challenges of traditional
PT and the ability of IVET to deliver a vivid sensory-rich experience that
mimics climbing into someone else’s skin, we anticipated:
H1: EE will elicit greater perceived oneness with the target compared to
traditional PT.
The result of better self-other merging, as demonstrated through greater
oneness, was expected to be manifested in actual helping:
H2: EE will elicit greater helping behavior toward the target compared to
traditional PT.
Furthermore, the vivid experience of the disability in IVET was antic-
ipated to reduce prejudice toward colorblind individuals even after some
time had passed:
H3: EE will elicit more favorable attitudes toward the target compared to
traditional PT that last up to 24 hours following the experimental treat-
ment.
Finally, individual differences in predispositions to care for others were
expected to moderate the effect of EE and PT to some degree:
RQ1: How will individual predispositions to care for others impact the effect
of EE and PT on oneness, attitude, and helping behavior?
METHOD
PARTICIPANTS
A sample was recruited from the student population of a medium-sized
university. The sample (ND44)1consisted of 20 males and 24 females
aged 18 to 69 (MD22.57, SD D8.75).2
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14 S. J. Ahn et al.
APPARATUS
Three computer stations were involved in the experimental setup: the par-
ticipant’s computer, where the participant was exposed to the EE or PT
treatments; the confederate’s computer, where a research assistant was pos-
ing as a colorblind person; and the survey computer, where the participant
filled out questionnaires.
At the participant’s computer, participants donned a HMD through which
they were able to view the stimulus. The HMD presented the virtual envi-
ronment with 640 horizontal by 480 vertical pixel resolution panels for each
eye. Participants’ head movements were tracked by a three-axis orientation
sensing system (Intersense IS250 with an update rate of 150 Hz) and used to
continuously update the simulated viewpoint. The system latency, or delay
between the participant’s movement and the resulting update in the HMD,
was no greater than 80 ms. Vizard 3.0 software was used to assimilate tracking
and rendering.
The confederate’s computer was equipped with the Sensable Phantom
Omni haptic device with six degrees of freedom (x, y, z, pitch, yaw, and roll).
The haptic device allowed confederates to ‘touch’ objects in the virtual world
by providing mechanical resistance based on the position of the hand as it
interacted with the virtual environment. The confederate and participant’s
computers were networked so that the participant at the computer could
see any movement on the confederate’s screen in real-time. Figure 1 depicts
the experimental setup.
DESIGN AND PROCEDURE
Pretest. Approximately 48 hours prior to coming into the lab, all partic-
ipants filled out a pretest (Interpersonal Reactivity Index [IRI]; Davis, 1980).
This 28-item questionnaire is comprised of four 7-item subscales: perspective
taking, fantasy, empathic concern, and personal distress. Combined, the four
subscales yield a comprehensive picture of individual predispositions to put
oneself in another’s person’s situation and react to that person’s needs. Each
item was measured by a fully labeled 5-point scale (1 Ddoes not describe me
well; 5 Ddescribes me very well). The 28 items had a Cronbach’s alpha level
of .78 and were averaged to create a composite IRI score. The IRI scores
ranged from 2.32 to 4.07 (MD3.16, SD D.35).
Experiment. During the actual experiment, participants were randomly
assigned to either the EE or PT condition. Participants in both conditions
received identical explanations about colorblindness, such as basic statistics,
a short description of how colorblind people are unable to differentiate
between red and green, and how this could affect their lives.
The main experimental task was a color matching exercise in which
participants matched red or green colored screws with red or green colored
holes on a board. To clearly present the target of perspective taking, a
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Embodied Experiences 15
FIGURE 1 Top row: the experimental setup with participant (denoted P) and confederate
(denoted C) computer stations. Bottom row: close-up of participant wearing the HMD (left),
close-up of confederate using the haptic device. (Figure available in color online.)
same-sex confederate posed as a colorblind student. The cover story in-
formed participants that the colorblind confederate was ‘‘training to differ-
entiate red and green.’’ The participants were asked to help this confed-
erate in training since the colorblind student would be unable to differ-
entiate the colors of the screws and the holes at first. Participants were
instructed to verbally guide the confederate through the task (e.g., ‘‘move
the screw up’’) while the confederate moved the screws with the haptic
device.
Participants gave verbal instructions to the colorblind confederate for
two sets of five boards, each board taking about one minute to complete.
The first set, presented as the practice set, was the treatment. Wearing the
HMD, participants in the EE condition completed the boards in the colorblind
perspective, which displayed the objects treated with a colorblindness filter,
rendering them as seen by a colorblind individual. In other words, in the
EE condition, participants embodied the vivid sensory experience of being
colorblind and were unable to discriminate red objects from green objects.
Participants in the PT condition also wore the HMD and completed the same
boards in the normal color perspective while imagining being colorblind.
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16 S. J. Ahn et al.
Then, all participants gave verbal guidance to the confederate to com-
plete the second set of boards which were presented to them as the actual
training set. This second set was a filler task, administered to bolster the
cover story of training the colorblind student after practice on the first set.
Once the second set of boards was completed, participants were taken out
of the HMD and led to the survey computer station where they filled out
surveys. As thinking about the disability seemed to be an integral part of
the manipulation that made the virtual schizophrenia simulation effective
in the Kalyanaraman et al. (2010) study, all participants were asked to write
down their thoughts on either embodying the experience of being colorblind
or taking the mental perspective of being colorblind before moving on to
answer survey questionnaires.
Upon completion of survey questionnaires, the researcher indicated that
the experiment was over and that the participant was free to leave at any
time. To confirm the termination of the experiment, all participants were paid
at this point. The researcher then thanked the confederate for participating
in the training, explicitly stating that they were welcome to stay as long as
necessary to continue practicing with the color-matching program. Then, the
researcher left while the participant was still in the room.
The confederates were instructed to wait until the participant was ready
to leave, and then ask the participant for help: ‘‘I think I still need some prac-
tice on trying to match the colors. I know the experiment is finished but can
you stay and help me some more?’’ It was evident that the experiment was
over and the researcher was no longer overseeing the experiment. Therefore,
the extra number of boards completed by the participant after this point is
a measure of voluntary helping behavior. The confederates were blind to
the experimental conditions and carefully followed a preconstructed script
that was identical for all conditions. Further, confederates were instructed to
allow the participant to leave whenever they desired.
Posttest. An online follow-up survey assessing the participant’s prejudice
toward colorblind people was administered 24 hours after termination of all
experimental procedures.
DEPENDENT MEASURES
Manipulation check. Two items measured the success of the participant
taking the perspective of the colorblind target through either EE or PT: ‘‘How
colorblind did you feel during the practice session?’’ and ‘‘How difficult was it
to complete the color matching task during the practice session?’’ Responses
were measured with fully labeled 5-point Likert scales. The two items were
highly correlated (Pearson’s rand p-value D.88) and were averaged.
Oneness. The Inclusion of Other in the Self Scale measured how close
the participants felt to the confederate. Developed by Aron and colleagues
(1992), this scale depicts seven drawings of increasingly overlapping circles,
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Embodied Experiences 17
anchored by the first picture of two non-overlapping circles and the seventh
picture of two almost completely overlapping circles. The participant was
instructed to choose the picture that best depicted the extent to which
he/she felt connected to and ‘at one with’ the confederate. This is a measure-
ment of the participants’ perceived similarity with the target (Maner et al.,
2002).
Helping. This is the number of boards completed upon the confeder-
ate’s request for help after the researcher had left. Unbeknownst to the partic-
ipant, the program was still running and counting the number of completed
boards. As the participant was well aware that this would be uncompen-
sated work, the number of extra boards may be seen as voluntary helping
behavior.
Attitude. This was a 10-item survey adapted from the Attitude Toward
Disabled Persons Survey (Yuker, Block, & Younng, 1966), a widely used
scale to determine the extent to which people perceive disabled people as
inferior to people without disabilities. Ten items were taken from the original
scale and the word ‘‘disabled’’ was replaced with ‘‘colorblind.’’ For instance,
if the original item was, ‘‘Disabled people are just as self-confident as other
people,’’ we adapted this to ‘‘Colorblind people are just as self-confident as
other people.’’ A fully labeled 6-point Likert-scale presented these statements
manifesting either negative or positive attitudes toward colorblind people
(3DI disagree completely; 3 DI agree completely). Thus, a higher score
on this attitude scale implies greater reduction of prejudice, while a lower
score on the scale implies lesser reduction of prejudice. The reliability of
these 10 items had a Cronbach’s alpha value of .77 and were averaged
to create a comprehensive measure of general attitude toward colorblind
people.
Results
MANIPULATION CHECK
An independent samples ttest compared means of the manipulation check
scores between the EE and PT conditions. The Levene’s test was significant
and results were interpreted without assuming equal variances. Results of
the ttest was significant, t(23.76) D7.03, p<.01, dD2.22, confirming the
success of the manipulation of EE in delivering a vivid sensory experience
of being colorblind. Participants who embodied the experience of being
colorblind felt significantly more colorblind (MD3.50, SD D1.32) and thus
the color matching task became significantly more difficult for them than
participants who imagined being colorblind (MD1.30, SD D.47).
Descriptive statistics of all other dependent measures are given in Ta-
ble 1, and detailed results of all regression tests to be discussed in the
following pages are displayed in Table 2.
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18 S. J. Ahn et al.
TABLE 1 Descriptive Statistics for Dependent Measures in Experiment 1 (ND40)
M SD Minimum Maximum
Oneness EE 4.35 1.79 1.00 7.00
PT 4.00 1.81 1.00 7.00
Total 4.18 1.78 1.00 7.00
Helping EE 19.50 16.80 2.00 55.00
PT 23.80 17.34 2.00 55.00
Total 21.65 16.99 2.00 55.00
Attitude EE 1.81 .51 1.00 3.00
PT 1.51 .81 .10 2.60
Total 1.66 .69 .10 3.00
ONENESS
Next, a linear regression was conducted with oneness as the dependent
variable and the experimental conditions (EE vs. PT), IRI, and their in-
teraction term as the predictors. The experimental condition variable was
dummy coded with 0 (PT) and 1 (EE), and IRI scores were centered. As
shown in Table 2, both the main effects of experimental condition and
IRI had positive but nonsignificant coefficients. The interaction between
experimental condition and IRI was significant. The change in incremental
R2value after adding the interaction term was significant with the interaction
term adding 12% of R2change. Following the guidelines set forth by Aiken
and West (1991), the effect of IRI’s moderation on oneness is depicted
in Figure 2. Figure 2 and the negative coefficient value of the interaction
term imply that the difference in oneness from EE and PT was larger for
participants with lower IRI. For these participants, EE was more effective
than PT in eliciting higher oneness. The difference in oneness fostered by EE
or PT was smaller for participants with higher IRIs and PT was more effective
than EE for them. Therefore, Hypothesis 1 was only partially supported.
HELPING
A regression was conducted with the number of extra boards completed
as the dependent variable and the same predictors as above. As shown
TABLE 2 Regression Analyses for Dependent Measures in Experiment 1 (ND40)a
Experimental
condition IRI Condition IRI
Oneness .11 .30 .56*
Helping .12 .64* .69**
Attitude .21 .60* .52*
aCell entries refer to the standardized regression coefficient.
*p<.05, **p<.01.
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Embodied Experiences 19
FIGURE 2 Interaction between experimental condition and IRI in predicting oneness.
in Table 2, the main effect of experimental condition had a negative but
nonsignificant coefficient. The main effect of IRI was significant—participants
with lower IRI scores offered more help to the colorblind confederate. The
interaction between experimental conditions and IRI was also significant, as
displayed in Figure 3. Adding the interaction term to the model significantly
increased the R2value by 18%. The difference in helping behavior elicited by
EE and PT was greater for participants with lower than with higher IRI. For
participants with lower IRI, traditional PT elicited greater helping than EE.
The difference between experimental conditions was smaller for participants
with higher IRI, for whom PT seemed more effective than EE. Hypothesis 2
was not supported.
FIGURE 3 Interaction between experimental condition and IRI in predicting helping be-
havior.
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20 S. J. Ahn et al.
FIGURE 4 Interaction between experimental condition and IRI in predicting attitude toward
people with colorblindness 24 hours after the experimental treatments.
ATTITUDE
Finally, a regression was conducted with attitude as the dependent variable
and the same predictors as above. The main effect of experimental condition
had a positive but nonsignificant coefficient. On the other hand, the main
effect of IRI was a significant predictor of attitude, implying that partici-
pants with higher IRI scores had more favorable attitude toward people
with colorblindness (i.e., greater reduction of prejudice) 24 hours after the
experimental treatments. The interaction was also significant, as shown in
Figure 4. Adding the interaction term to the model significantly increased the
R2value by 10%. The effect was largely driven by participants with lower IRI
in the PT condition, who displayed the least favorable attitude toward people
with colorblindness 24 hours after the treatment. This also implies that EE
fostered relatively high levels of attitude regardless of individual differences
in IRI. On the other hand, participants exposed to the PT condition had to
have higher IRI to demonstrate an equally high level of attitude. Hypothesis 3
was partially supported.
Discussion
These results imply that embodying the experience of being colorblind
has notable effects, particularly on participants with lower IRI. For those
participants, EE enhanced the feeling of merging with the colorblind con-
federate compared to traditional PT. Furthermore, participants with lower IRI
exposed to EE indicated more favorable attitudes—or reduced prejudice—
toward people with colorblindness 24 hours after the treatment compared to
participants with higher IRI. It should be noted that this longer-term effect
resulted in positive attitudes toward not just the colorblind confederate that
the participants interacted with in the laboratory, but toward the colorblind
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Embodied Experiences 21
population in general. Considering that the duration of the EE treatment was
approximately five minutes, the fact that the effect transferred outside the
laboratory 24 hours after the treatment is meaningful.
Individual differences in IRI also moderated the effect of experimental
treatments on helping behavior, but exposing participants with lower IRI
to EE actually led to less helping compared to traditional PT. One possible
explanation is our failure to construct a believable task; that is, the IVET ma-
nipulation may have been so vivid that the helping task seemed implausible
particularly after the EE treatment. When participants saw firsthand in the EE
condition how completely indistinguishable the colors are to a colorblind
person, they may have felt that the confederate’s state was far more serious
than they had imagined and that extra practice would be futile. Conversely,
participants relying on imagination in the PT condition may have not realized
the severity of the disability and may have had unrealistic optimism in their
ability to help the colorblind student, thus spending more time helping. We
revisit this anomaly by redesigning the helping task in the next two studies.
Because IRI’s moderation of the helping behavior was at odds with how
it affected oneness and attitude, IRI’s role as a moderator is inconclusive.
Similarly, IRI’s main effect is also inconclusive as participants with higher IRI
were less likely to help, but displayed more favorable attitude 24 hours after
the experimental treatment. Despite inconsistencies, the fact that we were
able to obtain strong interaction effects in all three measures with a small
sample size is encouraging and merits further investigation.
EXPERIMENT 2
A follow-up experiment was conducted with a larger sample to delve deeper
into the underlying mechanism of EE and how its effects on oneness, attitude,
and helping may be moderated by IRI. Based on the results of Experiment 1
and the earlier discussion on prior work demonstrating correlations between
IRI scores and the perception of presence, we expected that the moderated
effect of EE on increased oneness would be related to the level of presence;
that is, the vivid sensory information of EE is expected to heighten the sense
of realism of the experience. The heightened sense of realism is, in turn,
expected to lead participants to feel that they have truly climbed into the
skin of, or are at one with, a colorblind person. Thus, Experiment 2 first
aims to replicate Hypothesis 1 from Experiment 1, but with IRI moderating
the effects as Experiment 1 implied that EE was more effective in eliciting
oneness among participants with lower IRI:
H4: EE will elicit greater oneness with the target compared to traditional PT
in participants with lower IRI.
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22 S. J. Ahn et al.
The following is also hypothesized regarding the underlying mechanism
of EE:
H5: Perceived level of presence will mediate the relationship between ex-
perimental conditions and oneness.
Furthermore, we chose an improved assessment of helping with greater
feasibility than what was used in Experiment 1—helping to identify and
enhance Web sites that would be problematic for colorblind individuals.
This task was more believable in comparison to the task in Experiment 1
because it did not involve any claims to treat or improve the disability.
The help provided by participants would offer realistic aid to people with
colorblindness who use the Internet:
H6: EE will elicit greater helping behavior compared to traditional PT in
participants with lower IRI.
Finally, we also expected that EE’s effect on attitude toward people with
colorblindness 24 hours after the treatment will be replicated and that IRI
will moderate the effect, as demonstrated in Experiment 1.
H7: EE will elicit less prejudice toward colorblind people compared to tra-
ditional PT in participants with lower IRI.
Method
PARTICIPANTS
A sample was recruited from the student population of a medium-sized
university. The sample (ND97) consisted of 44 males and 53 females aged
18 to 36 (MD21.59, SD D3.00).
APPARATUS
The same devices from Experiment 1 were used.
DESIGN AND PROCEDURE
Pretest. The same IRI scale from Experiment 1 was used as a pretest.
The 28 items had a Cronbach’s alpha value of .79 and were averaged to
create a comprehensive IRI score. The IRI scores ranged from 1.89 to 4.25
(MD3.31, SD D.39).
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Embodied Experiences 23
Experiment. The same design from Experiment 1 pitting EE against PT
was used, but rather than using an in-person confederate, Experiment 2
introduced the same-sex colorblind confederate from Experiment 1 with a
color photograph to provide a specific target of perspective taking for the
participants. Numerous prior studies have used static forms of target repre-
sentation such as photographs (Galinsky, Wang, & Ku, 2005). Because they
did not have a live confederate in the same room, participants were told to
complete the boards themselves for the color-matching task instead of giving
verbal guidance to the confederate as in Experiment 1. Thus, all participants
wore the HMD and had control of the haptic pen. All other instructions and
procedures were identical with Experiment 1 with the exception of the new
helping task.
The helping task in this experiment involved participants reading a short
text message on the computer from a student group that was supposedly
trying to build colorblind friendly Web sites. The task required them to
view screenshots of Web sites and to write about why the Web site may
be inaccessible to colorblind individuals and how it may be improved. It
was made clear to the participants that this activity was not a part of the
experiment and that it would be volunteer work. The researcher left the
room at this point, instructing the participant to leave whenever they wished
to go.
If a participant agreed to participate, they clicked on a next button. The
computer walked the participant through instructions and presented a picture
of a Web site with a textbox. There was a quit button on the screen that
participants could click at any point to leave the experiment. Time stamps
were gathered from the point the participant clicked on ‘‘next’’ to begin the
activity to the point where the participant clicked on ‘‘quit.’’ Also, anything
typed into the textbox was recorded for further analyses. The time spent and
the number of words written for this uncompensated activity was a measure
of helping toward colorblind people in general.
Posttest. The same attitude scale from Experiment 1 was administered
24 hours following the experimental treatments.
DEPENDENT MEASURES
Manipulation check. The same two items from Experiment 1 measured
the success of the participant taking the perspective of the colorblind target
through either EE or PT. The two items were highly correlated (Pearson’s r
and p-value D.92) and were averaged.
Oneness. The same Inclusion of Other in the Self Scale from Experi-
ment 1 was used.
Presence. Five items gauged how vivid and realistic the experiment
treatment felt by asking participants the extent that they felt the colorblind
was happening to them; they were in the colorblind person’s body; they were
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24 S. J. Ahn et al.
colorblind; they felt they could reach out and touch the red and green screws;
they felt that the screws and the board were real. These items were culled
from several sources (Bailenson & Yee, 2007; Nowak & Biocca, 2003; Witmer
& Singer, 1998) and have been tested in other comparable experiments (Fox,
Bailenson, & Binney, 2009). Participants used fully labeled 5-point Likert
scales (1 Dnot at all; 5 Dcompletely) to rate their perceptions of realism.
The items had high reliability (˛D.79) and were averaged to create a single
composite measure.
Helping. The total number of seconds that the participants invested in
the volunteer activity was calculated to determine the degree of helping
behavior. The duration of time invested began the moment a participant
finished reading the instructions and started viewing the screenshots of Web
sites and terminated the moment the participant hit the ‘quit’ button. The
total number of words written to help identify the problematic areas of the
Web sites was also counted as a degree of helping behavior. Measuring the
total number of words ensured that we were measuring actual effort to help
rather than time spent passively viewing Web sites.
Attitude. The same 10-item attitude scale from Experiment 1 was used.
The reliability of these 10 items had a Cronbach’s alpha value of .77 and were
averaged to create a comprehensive measure of attitude toward colorblind
people.
Results
Descriptive statistics of all dependent measures are given in Table 3, and
detailed results of all regression tests are displayed in Table 4.
TABLE 3 Descriptive Statistics for Dependent Measures in Experiment 2 (ND97)
M SD Minimum Maximum
Oneness EE 3.98 1.84 .00 7.00
PT 2.39 1.48 1.00 6.00
Total 3.26 1.86 .00 7.00
Presence EE 2.72 .86 1.00 4.40
PT 1.46 .52 1.00 3.40
Total 2.15 .96 1.00 4.40
Helping (time) EE 91.34 226.55 .00 1411.78
PT 79.48 152.65 .00 655.91
Total 86.04 196.10 .00 1411.78
Helping (words) EE 151.89 447.42 .00 2775.00
PT 105.91 217.97 .00 1147.00
Total 131.29 362.09 .00 2775.00
Attitude EE 1.62 .78 0.11 3.00
PT 1.43 .91 1.56 3.00
Total 1.53 .84 1.56 3.00
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Embodied Experiences 25
TABLE 4 Regression Analyses for Dependent Measures in Experiment 2 (ND97)a
Experimental
condition IRI Condition IRI
Oneness .43** .07 .03
Helping (time) .04 .11 .01
Helping (words) .07 .04 .09
Attitude .11 .19 .31*
aCell entries refer to the standardized regression coefficient.
*p<.05, **p<.01.
MANIPULATION CHECK
An independent samples ttest was conducted to compare means of the
manipulation check scores between the EE and PT conditions. The Levene’s
test was significant and results were interpreted without assuming equal
variances. The ttest was significant, t(80.02) D19.05, p<.01, dD4.01,
confirming the success of the manipulation of EE in delivering a vivid sensory
experience of being colorblind. Participants who embodied the experience
of being colorblind felt significantly more colorblind (MD4.15, SD D.91)
than participants who imagined being colorblind (MD1.26, SD D.46).
ONENESS
Next, a linear regression was conducted with oneness as the dependent
variable and experimental conditions, IRI, and their interaction term as the
predictors. Again, the experimental condition variable was dummy coded
with 0 (PT) and 1 (EE), and IRI scores were centered. As shown in Table 4,
results revealed that the main effect of experimental condition is significant,
indicating that participants in the EE condition felt more at one with the
colorblind person compared to participants in the PT condition. R2values
revealed that experimental condition accounted for 18% of the model. IRI
and the interaction term were not significant variables in the model. There-
fore, Hypothesis 4 was not supported but the main effect of experimental
condition is notable.
PRESENCE–MEDIATION ANALYSIS
Following the guidelines set out by Baron and Kenny (1986), a linear re-
gression was conducted with experimental condition as the independent
variable and oneness as the dependent variable, ˇD.43, p<.01. Next, a
regression was conducted with experimental condition as the independent
variable and presence as the dependent variable, ˇD.66, p<.01. Another
regression was run with presence as the independent variable and oneness
as the dependent variable, ˇD.55, p<.01. Finally, a linear regression
with experimental condition as the independent variable and oneness as
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26 S. J. Ahn et al.
the dependent variable, controlling for presence was run. Results indicated
that presence (ˇD.48, p<.01) completely mediates the relationship be-
tween experimental condition and oneness (ˇD.11, p>.05). Therefore,
Hypothesis 5 was supported.
HELPING
A linear regression was conducted with helping time as the dependent
variable and experimental conditions, IRI, and their interaction term as the
predictors. None of the variables in the model were significant. Another
linear regression was conducted with helping words as the dependent vari-
able. Again, none of the variables in the model were significant. Therefore,
Hypothesis 6 was not supported.
ATTITUDE
Finally, another regression was conducted with attitude as the dependent
variable and the same predictors as above. As shown in Table 4, the main
effect of experimental condition had a positive but nonsignificant coefficient.
The main effect of IRI had a negative but nonsignificant coefficient. The
interaction term was significant, with the effect largely driven by participants
with higher IRI, as shown in Figure 5. Adding the interaction term to the
model significantly increased the R2value by 4%. Among participants with
higher IRI, EE had lasting effects 24 hours following the experimental treat-
ment leading to more favorable attitudes toward people with colorblindness
than those of participants with lower IRI. Participants with higher IRI in the
traditional PT condition demonstrated attitudes more negative than partici-
pants with lower IRI in the PT condition. Therefore, Hypothesis 7 was not
supported.
FIGURE 5 Interaction between experimental condition and IRI in predicting attitude toward
people with colorblindness 24 hours after the experimental treatments.
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Embodied Experiences 27
Discussion
Experiment 2 built upon the results of the first experiment by shedding
light on the mechanism of EE. First, it partially replicated the finding from
the previous study that EE resulted in more oneness than PT. Moreover,
the results demonstrated that presence mediated the relationship between
experimental condition and oneness. In other words, the findings imply that
participants in the EE condition perceived the experience of being colorblind
to be more realistic than participants in the PT condition. As a result, these
participants felt more merged with the colorblind person.
However, the moderating effect of IRI remains inconclusive in that ev-
eryone, regardless of their individual differences in IRI, felt higher self-other
merging in the EE condition than in the PT condition. Also, the interaction
between experimental condition and IRI was manifested in the direction
opposite to our hypothesis in attitudes toward people with colorblindness—
participants with higher, rather than lower, IRI drove the effect. Thus, al-
though combined results of Experiments 1 and 2 imply that IRI moderates
the effect of EE, the directions of the interaction are inconsistent, making it
difficult to reach a conclusion.
The newly implemented helping measure failed to yield any significant
results. However, when examining post experiment interviews, we were
able to gain anecdotal evidence during the course of the experiment that the
many experimental sessions were conducted later in the evening and at night
when students often had prior engagements. Many participants expressed
their regret in their inability to cancel these prior engagements despite their
desire to help.
Despite some discrepancies, Experiment 2 fulfilled what we had set
out to do by yielding insight into the underlying process of EE and finding
out that EE leads to greater self-other merging than traditional PT through
offering a more vivid and realistic experience of another person. However,
because our ultimate interest in EE was whether it would encourage more ac-
tual helping behavior in the physical world than traditional PT, and because
the attitudinal changes in the two earlier experiments were encouraging,
a follow-up experiment was conducted specifically to test helping in the
physical world.3
EXPERIMENT 3
To investigate whether EE could promote actual helping behavior outside
of the virtual environment, Experiment 3 presented the improved helping
task from Experiment 2 but also scheduled experimental time slots during
the day when participants were less likely to have scheduling conflicts and
would be able to volunteer their time. Situational variables such as scheduling
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28 S. J. Ahn et al.
conflict are crucial barriers to manifested helping behavior as demonstrated
in the seminal Good Samaritan study by Darley and Batson (1973), in which
seminary students, who were ironically on their way to give a religious
talk, failed to help an injured confederate. Therefore, the main purpose of
Experiment 3 was to repeat the test of Hypothesis 6 from Experiment 2.
H6: EE will elicit greater helping behavior compared to traditional PT in
participants with lower IRI.
As the moderating role of IRI was inconclusive from the earlier two
experiments, Experiment 3 explored IRI as a moderator once again.
Method
PARTICIPANTS
A sample was recruited from two medium-sized schools. The sample (ND
57) consisted of 22 males and 35 females aged 18 to 56 (MD22.54, SD D
7.29).
APPARATUS
The same devices from Experiment 1 and 2 were used.
DESIGN AND PROCEDURE
Pretest. The IRI scale from Experiment 1 and 2 was used as a pretest.
The 28 items had a Cronbach’s alpha value of .74 and were averaged as a
single IRI score. The IRI score ranged from 2.07 to 3.96 (MD3.03, SD D
.40).
Experiment. The same design from Experiment 1 and 2 pitting EE against
PT was used, with the same-sex colorblind confederate photo used in Ex-
periment 2.
The only procedural difference from Experiment 2 was that instead of
completing the color-matching task on their own, they observed a video of
the color-matching task being completed by someone else; that is, partic-
ipants were told that in order to observe how a colorblind person would
complete the task, the researchers had recorded a video of the colorblind
person filling out a series of boards. The video stimulus was used in place
of having participants move the haptic pen (as in Experiment 2) to control
for the possible influence of interactivity on experimental treatments, as
having participants interact with the virtual environment may lead to possible
confounds. The participants were told that the video was a movie that
captured the movements on the screen that the confederate made while
filling out boards with the haptic device. The video was created so that it
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Embodied Experiences 29
would contain obvious mismatches, ostensibly committed by the colorblind
confederate that they had been introduced to from a photograph. Participants
donned a HMD and watched this video in stereoscopic view in either the
colorblind perspective (EE) or in normal colors while imagining the confed-
erate’s perspective (PT).
DEPENDENT MEASURES
Manipulation check. The same two items (Pearson’s rand p-value D
.77) from Experiment 1 and 2 assessed how much the EE or PT treatment
presented realistic experiences of being colorblind.
Helping. The same measure of helping time and words from Experi-
ment 2 were used.
Results
MANIPULATION CHECK
An independent samples ttest was conducted to compare means of the
manipulation check scores between the EE and PT conditions. The Levene’s
test was significant and results were interpreted without assuming equal
variances. Results of the ttest was significant, t(38.61) D6.54, p<.01,
dD1.71, confirming the success of the manipulation of EE in delivering
a vivid sensory experience of being colorblind. Participants who embodied
the experience of being colorblind felt significantly more colorblind (MD
3.25, SD D1.34) than participants who imagined being colorblind (MD1.52,
SD D.53).
HELPING
Next, a linear regression was run with helping time as the dependent variable
and experimental conditions, IRI, and their interaction term as the predictors.
The same dummy coding (0 DPT; 1 DEE) was used and IRI scores were
centered. Results revealed that the main effect of experimental condition is
significant, ˇD.27, p<.05, indicating that participants in the EE condition
(MD412.23, SD D384.59) spent significantly more time helping the col-
orblind person compared to participants in the PT condition (MD216.81,
SD D160.29). R2values revealed that experimental condition accounted for
10% of the model. IRI and the interaction term were not significant variables
in the model.
Another regression was run with helping words as the dependent vari-
able. Again, results revealed that the main effect of experimental condition is
significant, ˇD.28, p<.05, indicating that participants in the EE condition
(MD149.13, SD D141.25) wrote significantly more words to help the
colorblind person compared to participants in the PT condition (MD79.15,
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30 S. J. Ahn et al.
SD D62.33). R2values revealed that experimental condition accounted for
9% of the model. IRI and the interaction term were not significant. There-
fore, Hypothesis 6 was not supported. However, the main effects observed
from both regressions are notable in that exposure to EE led participants
to invest significant efforts in helping individuals inflicted with red-green
colorblindness.
Discussion
Building upon the shortcomings of the first two experiments, Experiment 3
provided evidence of EE’s ability to promote helping behavior in the physical
world. Results indicated that participants in the EE condition invested approx-
imately twice as much time and words to help colorblind people compared
to the participants who relied solely on imagination. It is noteworthy that
only a few minutes of exposure to EE triggered participants to spend twice
as much time helping the general colorblind population (rather than the just
the confederate) as participants who engaged in traditional PT. IRI did not
moderate the effect of experimental treatments on helping behavior and its
role as a moderator remains inconclusive.4
GENERAL DISCUSSION
Summary of Experiments
The current experiments explored the possibility of using IVET to allow
individuals to embody vivid perceptual experiences and whether such ex-
periences would encourage greater oneness, more favorable attitude toward
people with colorblindness, and ultimately, helping behavior. Individual
differences in feeling concern for others were measured and investigated
as a moderating variable. Across the three experiments, there is evidence
that IVET may be used as a tool to study perspective taking and promote
helping.
Experiment 1 was an initial exploration of EE to test its effectiveness
against PT and main findings demonstrated that the difference in the level
of oneness and attitude elicited by experimental treatments (EE vs. PT) was
greater for participants with lower IRI. EE was more effective for individuals
with lower IRI: These people perceived greater oneness with the colorblind
confederate and developed more positive attitude toward people with col-
orblindness that lasted up to 24 hours after the treatment. The difference
between the effect of EE and PT on oneness and attitude was smaller for
participants with higher IRI, for whom PT was more effective than EE. Our
initial attempt at measuring helping by asking participants to help colorblind
people train to overcome the disability backfired with people with lower
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Embodied Experiences 31
IRIs in the PT condition demonstrating more helping behavior than any
other participants.
Experiment 2 was conducted to investigate the underlying mechanism of
EE. Results indicated that participants in the EE condition found the treatment
to be much more vivid and realistic compared to traditional PT. The increase
in realism led to the increase in oneness. However, the measurement on
attitude toward colorblind persons yielded results inconsistent with the first
experiment in terms of the moderating role of IRI. This time, the difference in
attitudes elicited by either EE or PT was greater for participants with higher
IRI, for whom EE was more effective than PT. Also, a new helping measure
was introduced with improved believability but no differences were found
between conditions.
Experiment 3 was a final attempt at testing the ability of EE to promote
helping behavior in the physical world. The helping task with improved
believability from Experiment 2 was scheduled earlier on in the day so that
participants would not have scheduling conflicts with their personal lives
such as dinner appointments. Consequently, participants in the EE condition
demonstrated twice as much helping behavior compared to participants in
the PT condition. IRI did not moderate this effect.
Theoretical Implications
These results contribute to the field of communication and more specifically
media psychology in largely three ways. First of all, the findings expand
the Proteus Effect (Yee & Bailenson, 2007, 2009; Yee et al., 2009). In the
original work, participants were asked to embody an avatar that differed in
appearance with the participant in terms of height or attractiveness and found
that participants behaved in ways that they believed people of such height
or attractiveness would behave. The current experiments expanded on these
results by allowing individuals to embody perceptual experiences. Another
procedural difference from the Proteus Effect was that participants were
explicitly instructed that they would be stepping into the shoes of another
person, whereas participants in Yee and Bailenson’s (2007, 2009) studies
were told that the embodied avatar was the self. Consequently, the current
experiments demonstrated that when participants embodied the perceptual
experience of a colorblind person through the vivid sensory information
provided via IVET, they felt similar to and spent time trying to help the
colorblind person rather than simply acting like a colorblind person.
Second, Experiment 2 contributed to our understanding of EE by con-
firming that the perception of presence fully mediates the relationship be-
tween EE and oneness. The realism of the experience as measured by
presence may well be a crucial factor of EE, particularly in the context
of helping. Earlier studies (Cialdini et al., 1997; Maner et al., 2002) have
evidenced the importance of perceived oneness with the target in eliciting
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32 S. J. Ahn et al.
helping intentions; that is, these studies argued that people help based on
selfish motivations and that people were only willing to help when they
felt high oneness with the target (i.e., self is seen in the other when self-
other merging occurs). Thus, the vivid sensory information provided in EE
may have made the experience feel as if it were really happening to the self,
leading to high perceptions of oneness. Based on the results of prior studies,
higher perception of oneness may be what led to actual helping behavior
in Experiment 3 and this relationship should be explored in future studies.
These implications from Experiment 2 advance earlier work that explored
the effects of embodying avatars and their experiences in immersive virtual
environments (Ahn, 2011; Ahn & Bailenson, 2011; Fox, 2010) by yielding
meaningful insights to the underlying mechanism of EE.
Finally, Experiment 3 expanded the findings of studies that deal with
helping and altruism but stop at measuring self-reported intentions to help
(e.g., Batson, 1997; Cialdini et al., 1997; Maner et al., 2002) and also studies
that deal with virtual simulations (e.g. Jin, Ai, & Rasmussen, 2005; Kalyanara-
man et al., 2010) by confirming that the effects of EE within the virtual envi-
ronment can transfer into the physical world as actual helping behavior. The
fact that participants in the EE condition, who were mostly undergraduate
college students, spent an average of about 7 minutes alone (vs. 3.5 minutes
in the PT condition), unsupervised, to help a complete stranger only after
less than 5 minutes of exposure to EE is worth noting. This is even more so
when these students clearly knew that they would not be compensated for
their help and that they were free to leave whenever they wished.
There may be myriads of opportunities to practically apply EE to en-
courage favorable attitudes and helping behavior. The most representative
application would be in diversity training in either educational or workplace
contexts. For instance, a recent study demonstrated that diversity training
with English speaking participants through traditional perspective taking and
role-playing significantly increased favorable attitude toward non-English
speaking individuals in a workplace scenario (Madera, Neal, & Dawson,
2011). Our findings imply that using EE in similar diversity training settings
would amplify these positive attitudes. More importantly, the result of the
diversity training through EE may be manifested as actual helping behavior
toward members of different social groups.
Of course, the study is not without limitations. Helping, because it
involves some extent of self-sacrifice, is difficult to demonstrate in labo-
ratory settings when the participant has been introduced to a stranger in an
unfamiliar location and situation. While it is meaningful that we were able to
demonstrate actual helping behavior regardless of these restrictions, we can
only conclude that EE encourages helping under qualified circumstances—
when it is clear how the task will actually help the person in need and
when the individual can spare the time. Although the helping tasks across
all three experiments were designed to help the confederate and other
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Embodied Experiences 33
individuals sharing the same disability, the main difference in the helping
tasks incorporated in the current experiments seems to be the degree of
feasibility. The task in Experiment 1 claiming to help the confederate to learn
how to differentiate colors may have seemed highly unfeasible whereas the
task in Experiments 2 and 3 claiming to help the colorblind population by
creating more accessible Web sites may have seemed more feasible. Indeed,
earlier research showed that the confidence that the help-giver had with
regard to successfully helping the individual in need moderated the amount
of effort invested in helping (Oettingen, Stephens, Mayer, & Brinkmann,
2010). In Experiment 1, participants with lower IRI that were in the PT
condition experienced less self-other merging and likely had greater unre-
alistic confidence of helping the confederate compared to participants who
experienced greater self-other merging. This unrealistic confidence, in turn,
may have elicited more helping and remains an interesting question for future
research.
Also, the role of IRI as a moderator remains inconclusive. Although the
effect of EE on people’s attitude toward people with colorblindness seems
to linger for up to 24 hours, the inconsistency in the moderating role of IRI
makes it difficult to draw solid conclusions. Because the attitude measure
was administered 24 hours following the experiment, there was little control
over the participants during that time and situational variances that may have
confound the results. Nevertheless, the fact that the effect of a few minutes
of EE on attitudes toward individuals with disabilities was sustained for up
to 24 hours is encouraging and merits further research.
Another limitation is the large standard deviations in the helping mea-
sure in Experiment 3. Because the measure of helping behavior is a ratio level
of measurement with potentially large variability in the scale (i.e., participants
could spend no time or as much time as they wanted to), the large standard
deviation is almost inevitable. Despite the relatively small effect size in terms
of R2change, no other study to the best of our knowledge has attempted
to measure helping behavior in terms of actual time and effort spent. Con-
sidering the various factors that may have hindered helping behavior, such
as the undergraduate population, a target who is a complete stranger, and
no compensation for helping, our findings are meaningful in that we saw
preliminary success in using EE to encourage actual helping behavior in the
physical world, quantifiable in terms of the time and effort invested.
Conclusion and Future Directions
Based on these limitations, future studies should pay attention to both dis-
positional (e.g., IRI) and situational (e.g., EE or PT) variables and how they
encourage interpersonal understanding and helping behavior. As the current
experiments have provided a starting point for investigating the process of
EE, future studies should probe boundary conditions from both the technical
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34 S. J. Ahn et al.
aspect—amount of sensory information and its relationship to presence and
oneness—as well as the situational aspect—whether some contexts induce
more understanding and helping behavior than others.
With the advent of consumer technologies such as the Microsoft Kinect
and Nintendo Wii, virtual environments of varying levels of immersiveness
have become increasingly accessible. This means that people are able to en-
joy the benefits of EE in their own livings rooms. Furthermore, technological
advances in these consumer technologies are rapidly eliminating the need
for relatively clunky devices such as the HMD and haptic device used for
the current experiments, replacing them with motion sensing technology that
allows users to control mediated contents with naturalistic gestures. This is
meaningful as users are now able to enjoy virtual experiences without having
to rely on costly equipment that restrict natural movement. The increased
accessibility of hardware also implies an increase in accessibility of software,
meaning that the content of EE may be tailored to the individual user.
In sum, the collection of three experiments compared EE against PT
and investigated underlying mechanisms. More importantly, the current study
makes a meaningful contribution as one of the few studies to demonstrate the
increase of actual helping behavior through the use of IVET. With EE, the user
is able to vividly, accurately, and realistically experience the sensations of
another person and feel as if they have merged with that person. This sense
of self-other merging in the virtual environment transfers to the physical
world and translates into actual helping behavior, even when the other
person is a complete stranger. In the words of a participant, ‘‘I did not
realize how difficult it could be to do such an easy task [match colors].’’ These
experiments demonstrate that too often, this realization seems to come only
when you can see for yourself.
NOTES
1. Based on the participants’ responses describing their thoughts on the EE or PT treatments,
two coders were trained to code the thoughts for suspicion regarding the cover story
(Cohen’s D.74). Four participants demonstrated extremely high suspicion (e.g., ‘‘Is this
person just another student looking at the ‘colorblind’ version of the board,’’ ‘‘He’s not
really colorblind.’’). Data from these participants were removed from the final dataset.
2. Two of the male participants were much older than the student population—50 and
69 years old—but statistical analyses did not change after excluding them. Consequently.
they were kept in the final dataset.
3. Chronologically, Experiment 3 was run before Experiment 2, but they are presented
in reverse order in this article to enhance the comprehensibility and logic behind the
experiments.
4. Sex of the participants was also tested as a moderator in an analysis of variance (ANOVA)
to explore the effect of interactions between sex and experimental conditions on oneness,
helping time, helping word, and attitude. None of the tests yielded significant results for
the interaction and consequently, were not reported.
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Embodied Experiences 35
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Self-endorsing-the portrayal of potential consumers using products-is a novel advertising strategy made possible by the development of virtual environments. Three experiments compared self-endorsing to endorsing by an unfamiliar other. In Experiment 1, self-endorsing in online advertisements led to higher brand attitude and purchase intention than other-endorsing. Moreover, photographs were a more effective persuasion channel than text. In Experiment 2, participants wore a brand of clothing in a high-immersive virtual environment and preferred the brand worn by their virtual self to the brand worn by others. Experiment 3 demonstrated that an additional mechanism behind self-endorsing was the interactivity of the virtual representation. Evidence for self-referencing as a mediator is presented. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR] Copyright of Journal of Advertising is the property of M.E. Sharpe Inc. and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use. This abstract may be abridged. No warranty is given about the accuracy of the copy. Users should refer to the original published version of the material for the full abstract. (Copyright applies to all Abstracts.)
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Studies in the Proteus Effect (N. Yee & J. Bailenson, 200727. Yee , N. and Bailenson , J. 2007. The proteus effect: The effect of transformed self-representation on behavior. Human Communication Research, 33: 271–290. [CrossRef], [Web of Science ®]View all references) have shown that the appearance of avatars (i.e., digital representations of ourselves) can lead to behavioral changes in users. For example, participants in attractive avatars became friendlier to confederate strangers than participants in unattractive avatars. While the Proteus Effect is premised on self-perception theory (D. Bem, 19723. Bem , D. 1972. “Self-perception theory.”. In Advances in experimental social psychology Edited by: Berkowitz , L. Vol. 6, New York: Academic Press. [CrossRef]View all references)—the notion that we infer our own attitudes by observing ourselves as if from a third party—it is also possible that the previous findings were caused by priming (i.e., behavioral assimilation; J. Bargh, M. Chen, & L. Burrows, 19961. Bargh , J. , Chen , M. and Burrows , L. 1996. The automaticity of social behaviour: Direct effects of trait concept and stereotype activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71: 230–244. [CrossRef], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®]View all references). In our study, we used immersive virtual environment technology to experimentally tease apart embodiment from perception of the same visual stimulus. Our results showed that embodiment produced significantly larger behavioral changes than mere observation of the same visual stimuli. These findings support the claim that our avatars provide a unique lever to behavioral change; however, more work is needed to pin down the exact mechanism behind the effect.