Virtual Reality

Virtual reality can help us develop empathy for the oceans and marine life StuffSA

Hundreds of miles from shore and covering two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, the high seas are a world few of us will ever see. After more than a year in the field, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ian Urbina concluded, “There are few borders left on our planet. The world’s oceans are perhaps the wildest and least understood. »

Governed by no single country or authority, the high seas represent a final frontier both literally and figuratively. And in this information age – where we can access live streams from Mars, for example – we know surprisingly little about the ocean.

The race for ocean resources

Although inaccessible to many, the world’s oceans are under an extraordinary set of pressures. Climate change and industrial overfishing remain the most critical threats – undermining the ability of the oceans to provide nutritious food and satisfying livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people.

At the same time, new players are turning to the oceans as a source of economic growth. The ocean economy is expected to double from US$1.5 trillion in 2010 to US$3 trillion by 2030.

The global rush to develop the “blue economy” risks harming the marine environment and, in turn, affecting human well-being and exacerbating inequalities. For example, a recent study found that 10 wealthy countries hold 98% of patents relating to marine organisms. Likewise, a small group of wealthy nations, which subsidize their fishing fleets, dominate global fishing efforts. And just 10 powerful corporations generate almost half – 45% – of the wealth of the ocean economy.

Scientists have called this race for food, materials and space from the oceans “blue acceleration”.

ocean empathy

These converging threats have led scientists to argue that fostering empathy is necessary to repair the relationship between humans and nature. In a recent interview with National geographicclimate activist Greta Thunberg observed that “we live in a post-truth society…we don’t care…we have lost empathy”.

As Thunberg suggests, our collective loss of empathy for the planet and for each other is one of our greatest challenges.

Getting people to care about the oceans – which are out of sight and out of mind for many – can be particularly difficult. A recent survey of 3,500 world leaders found that they rated UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, life below water, as the least important goal.

The world’s oceans are in urgent need of protection. But ocean stewardship is impossible without empathy for marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. In this context, an important research question is how can researchers foster empathy for nature?

Fostering empathy through virtual reality

Fortunately, an emerging body of research suggests that empathy can be nurtured. In particular, research suggests that virtual reality can be a powerful way to trigger empathy.

This field of research is based on the premise that the immersive nature of virtual reality sets it apart from other media when it comes to stimulating empathy. The research demonstrates the potential of virtual reality to boost users’ ability to imagine and pursue more sustainable futures and encourage pro-environmental behaviors.

Based on this work, we wondered if experiencing the oceans in a virtual reality environment could make someone care and take action?

We found that the experience fostered empathy. We also found that research participants cared more after experiencing the pessimistic scenario compared to the optimistic scenario. As one of the first studies to demonstrate the influence of virtual reality to develop empathy towards the ocean, this research makes an important contribution to the advancement of research on new methods to support the sustainability of oceans. oceans.

While virtual reality is far from everyday technology for the masses, research is informing how scientists can use it to communicate.

The oceans are both vast and fragile, distant and central. Knowledge of the oceans and #oceanoptimism are needed more than ever. As marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco has argued, the oceans connect us, feed us and heal us – and are too important to be left behind.

  • Jessica Blyth is Assistant Professor, Center for Environmental Sustainability Research, Brock University
  • Colette Wabnitz is a Research Associate, Institute of Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia
  • Gary Pickering is Professor, Biological Sciences and Psychology, Brock University
  • Julia Baird is Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Human Dimensions of Water Resources and Water Resilience, Brock University
  • Kirsty L Nash is Research Fellow, Marine Ecology, University of Tasmania
  • Nathan Bennett is a Research Associate, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia
  • This article first appeared on The conversation

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