Evoking Physiological Synchrony and Empathy Using Social VR with Biofeedback
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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.