It has been argued that virtual reality is uniquely effective at eliciting empathy, because it is the best technology for putting an audience "into the shoes" of another person. Is there really a difference between a virtual reality experience and reading an article when it comes to inducing empathy? In this experimental study, we gave participants a pre-test and post-test survey regarding their empathy, attitudes and intentions toward immigrants, refugees and endangered animals. Between the surveys, randomly selected participants engaged with a virtual reality experience relating to the U.S.-Mexican border, and others read an article on the same topic. A virtual reality experience increased participants' empathy toward immigrants, led to more positive attitudes toward immigration and increased the participants' stated likelihood of taking political action in favor of immigrants. However, in almost all cases these increases were statistically indistinguishable from the increase due to reading a print article. No evidence was found for a strong, diffuse effect of virtual reality beyond the specific subject of the virtual reality experience itself.
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