There was a detailed post on io9 yesterday about a study in which researchers tested implicit racial biases of a group of light-skinned Spanish women and then split them into four test groups in virtual reality: some used a white avatar, some used a black avatar, some used a purple alien avatar, and some saw dark-skinned avatars but didn’t embody them.They were given time to explore with their virtual bodies and female avatars with light and dark skin (equal numbers) passed through their personal space to prompt an emotional reaction. The women were then given another test of implicit bias.
Unsurprisingly (I think), implicit bias was reduced only on those who used the dark-skinned avatar. They found the result was most pronounced in those who had experienced greater nervousness at the person space intrusions, perhaps because they felt the embodiment more than others and it enhanced the realism, having a greater effect. They haven’t yet tested if the result endures beyond that test session. (My guess? Nope.) This seems like just a technical approach to the rubber hand psychology experiment, which hasn’t been tested for enduring effect, either.
It’s worth reading the io9 piece as it refers to related studies, but I don’t think this research is breaking any new ground. We’re more strongly affected by embodied experiences and empathy can be temporarily generated by imagining oneself in the shoes/skin of the other. Considering some of the avatars in my SL inventory, I’m not sure if I’m now more accepting of tall skinny white women, cartoon zombies, bouncing balls of energy, pixie-sized people, or two-dimensional flowers. Maybe.