VHEX Empathy Type Diagnosis in Virtual Reality

Type: An immersive virtual reality simulation for empathy type diagnosis

Purpose: Provide an engaging and accurate method for identifying Korean adolescents’ empathy types in an immersive environment.

Place: South Korea

Technologies: Unity, HTC Vive Pro Eye, sensors (motion tracking, respiration, pulse, GSR, eye tracking, EEG, facial tracking), Spring Framework

Period: 2021-2023

Contributors: Prof. Haejung Suk, Prof. Eunha Kim, Prof. Woojin Chang, Prof. Tae-Sun Chung, Prof. Gyuhwan Oh, Prof. Teemu H. Laine + lab students.

Virtual Human EXperience (VHEX) is our recent initiative to harness realistic and intelligent virtual humans for serious games and applications in the field of psychology. As part of the larger project, we developed an immersive VR simulation for empathy type diagnosis. Empathy is an essential skill for humans, at it makes us capable of detecting and understanding each others’ emotional states, thereby contributing to social interactions and emotional well-being. Research has identified six empathy type constructs that can be organized into three dimensions:

  • Cognitive (C) – Affective (A) empathy: cognitive empathy means the person’s ability to identify another person’s emotions, whereas affective empathy refers to the person’s ability to have the same emotion than another person (emotional contagion).
  • Positive (P) – Negative (N) empathy: these relate to positive and negative emotions, respectively. For example, a person belonging to the positive empathy type can feel stronger empathy for positive emotions.
  • Minority (m) – Majority (M) empathy: these indicate whether the person feels empathy for a minority or majority in a group setting.

By combining these constructs, we can define a person’s empathy type, for example CPm is a person with strong cognitive empathy for positive emotions who feels empathy for minorities in group settings.

Our VR empathy diagnosis system places the user in shoes of a high school student in a Korean high school. The user encounters different social interactions with virtual characters in a classroom and cafeteria. The virtual characters, including the user’s avatar, are modeled based on real persons. The user interacts with these characters and listens to their stories. At the end of each scenario, the user answers related questions. The user’s empathy type is computed and presented based on these answers at the end of the experience. The following images exemplify the VR diagnosis contents as experienced by the user.

Clss_P_W

Cafe

Group_Np

Ending 2

The VHEX empathy diagnosis VR system is implemented using a number of sensors to enable rich embodiment and physiological data collection for research purposes. The user therefore feels more connected to the virtual avatar, thereby increasing immersion and presence. The following images demonstrate the hardware configuration and the mirror scene where the user can see a virtual avatar following their bodily actions.

VHEX sensors

VHEX empathy test mirror scene

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