Evoking Physiological Synchrony and Empathy Using Social VR with Biofeedback

1.7.2020
The UiX group led by Professor Giulio Jacucci Recent papers demonstrated computing psychophysiology can support studying social interaction in VR.

A recntly published paper in IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing (IF 6.28) available as preprint demonstrates the research of UiX group lead by Professor Jacucci on empathy in VR using Biofeedback 

Available here https://www.computer.org/csdl/journal/ta/5555/01/08930025/1fCCMiUcICY

With the advent of consumer grade virtual reality (VR) headsets and physiological measurement devices, new possibilities for mediated social interaction emerge enabling the immersion to environments where the visual features react to the users' physiological activation. In this study, we investigated whether and how individual and interpersonally shared biofeedback (visualised respiration rate and frontal asymmetry of electroencephalography, EEG) enhance synchrony between the users' physiological activity and perceived empathy towards the other during a compassion meditation exercise carried out in a social VR setting. The study was conducted as a laboratory experiment (N = 72) employing a Unity3D-based Dynecom immersive social meditation environment and two amplifiers to collect the psychophysiological signals for the biofeedback. The biofeedback on empathy-related EEG frontal asymmetry evoked higher self-reported empathy towards the other user than the biofeedback on respiratory activation, but the perceived empathy was highest when both feedbacks were simultaneously presented. In addition, the participants reported more empathy when there was stronger EEG frontal asymmetry synchronization between the users. The presented results inform the field of affective computing on the possibilities that VR offers for different applications of empathic technologies.