in VR

Virtual Reality User Experience
Interactive Learning
Immersive Technology
Concept & Ideation
Student Project

The purpose of ‘Learning Empathy through VR” app is to introduce anyone who is interested to learn about dementia and its impact on the brain, helping someone caring for a person with dementia to better understand the condition.

By being placed into first-person reproductions of real-life events the participants are able to experience the challenges of dementia patient through a deeper emotional, mental and physical engagement within simulated VR environment. That should evoke a feeling of empathy and should help to support dementia patients better.

The challenge

People with dementia have a progressive biological brain disorder that makes it more and more difficult for them to remember things, think clearly, communicate with others, and take care of themselves.

It is not possible to care appropriately for dementia patients without the vital ingredient of empathy. If empathy is lacking, we are unable to understand the patient’s perspective, create trust, and deliver person-centered care.

Why VR

Being educated isn’t the same as being informed.

VR can transform the way educational content is delivered; it works on the premise of creating a virtual world — real or imagined — and allows users to interact with it.

I believe that the journey of self-discovery through experiential learning leads to self-awareness, thus creating opportunities to better understand oneself, improve decision making, self-control, tolerance, and empathy.

Contextualized Learning

With VR users aren’t limited to word descriptions or book illustrations; they can explore the topic and see how things are put together.

VR provides a better sense of place, that allows users to learn about a subject by living it. This feeling engages the mind in a way that a body actually believes it’s in a new place. 

Being immersed in the learning content motivates the user to fully understand it. It’ll require less cognitive load to process the information.

Focused Immersion

The immersive nature of VR means that learners are literally engulfed with learning and this, in turn, is a key factor in the retention of information.

Multi-Sensory Experiences

People learn best by doing. Being able to move within a virtual space and engage with elements engages learners like never before. 

Emotional Reaction

Visceral reactions to what we are experiencing are fundamental to forming memories. The emotional connections users make with learning experiences in Virtual Reality increase their excitement and helps them remember different details.

Visual Learning

VR allows to scale and make learning more dynamic and engaging. A relatively small VR device can even act as a whole science lab. Being able to visualize complex functions or mechanisms makes it easier to comprehend.

Active Autonomy

A participants within a VR experience is the master of their journey, with a great deal of autonomy in how they engage with the content. This starts with the simple fact that they are able to choose where to look but expands when we offer them experiences which are not on rails and allow them to explore freely.


Users are ready to embrace new technology. According to a recent survey, desire for education outweighs desire for gaming content — 63.9 percent vs. 61 percent. This means there’s a lot of potential demand for educational VR experiences.


Families with dementia patients

Care Homes personnel

Medical schools


Community centers


I divided the process into 3 phases.

In the first phase, the participant will get a brief introduction to the current situation on a global scale.

The second phase is dedicated to education on the human brain and how it is affected by dementia. Knowing how different types of dementia affect the brain helps explain why someone with dementia might behave in a certain way.

The third phase would offer a fully immersive experience of being in the body of the "other", facing and dealing with day-to-day challenges of a dementia patient.

Phase one.

A brief introduction of the current situation on a global scale, through 3d data visualization.

Phase two.

An introduction to the human brain and how it is affected by dementia, followed by explanations on how changes in the brain of someone with dementia relate to the changes that they – and those around them – may notice as the condition progresses. It will be helpful for anyone who wants to find out more about how the brain is affected by dementia.

A Truine brain.

To make the learning process more experiential, I would like to present a concept of Truine brain (3 separate structures within the brain that had evolved at different stages of the evolutionary process). Understanding the concept of Truine brain would help to better understand the behavioral changes in dementia patients. The content could be presented through 3D elements evolving gamified interaction.

Phase three.

“Changing bodies changes minds: owning another body affects social cognition.”
Lara Maister1, Mel Slater2,3,5, Maria V. Sanchez-Vives4,5, & Manos Tsakiris1

Interaction: A fully immersive experience of being in the body of the "other", facing and dealing with day-to-day challenges of a dementia patient.

A simulated reality of a dementia patient would be presented through CG and audio recordings.

The participants will be given audio instructions to perform certain daily tasks that usually don't take much effort to perform. However, they will have some restrictions applied to their VR bodies which will challenge the performance, to help the user experience the struggle and frustration of a dementia patient.


The set-up will require high-end HMD, controllers, and computer. While some of the users might possess the required equipment, to make it more accessible, I would propose to locate educational stations in Community Centres, Public Libraries, Hospitals, Home Cares, Educational centres for Dementia studies, and online (in case the family members possess appropriate HMD and have access to the internet.)

The three illusions

The most relevant lesson I've learned during my education about Virtual Reality was about 3 illusions of VR. These illusions, combined, allow us to feel present in the VR experience, and consist of the following: Place illusion (PI), Plausibility Illusion (Psi) and Embodiment Illusion.

Below, I explain how these illusions could be applied in my project.

Place illusion (PI)

Place illusion is the illusion of being in a place even though you know you're not there.

From the external perspective, the reality of the surrounding environment of a dementia patient is the same as ours. When the user is placed in the body of a dementia patient, he/she would find themselves in a familiar and recognizable environment. Due to the nature of the human brain to relate faster to things it knows and recognizes, it should help the participant to perceive the new reality faster.

Plausibility Illusion (Psi)

Plausibility illusion is the illusion, not that you're in the place, but what's happening is really happening.

To create an illusion that the events are happening for real, we need to have three contributors to the place illusion.

1. The events occur in relation to you personally.
Due to the usage of embodiment illusion, all the experiences will be perceived in a direct form.

2. The world responds to you.
To educate participants about physiological changes in a brain and how they impact dementia patients perception of the world, the participant will have to go through a series of crafted experiences, that will be followed by synchronized voice-over, which will create a sensation of responsive environment.

3. Credibility.
All the experiences will be crafted based on the real case studies and facts sheet provided by Alzheimer’s Society.

Embodiment Illusion

For the creation of Embodiment Illusion, I would like to work with references from “The Sense of Embodiment in Virtual Reality” paper by Konstantina Kilteni and Raphaela Groten (Event Lab Facultat de Psicologia Universitat de Barcelona 08035 Barcelona, Spain)

Below is a list of points of reference and a brief explanation of each.

Sense of Body Ownership.
Sense of Body Ownership refers to one’s self-attribution of a body (Gallagher, 2000; Tsakiris, Prabhu, & Haggard, 2006) because it implies that the body is the source of the experienced sensations. The sense of body ownership can be enhanced by increasing the sensory correlations between the physical stimulation of the biological body and the seen stimulation on the avatar’s body. Such synchronous sensory correlations can be either visuotactile (e.g., with the use of appropriate haptic feedback), or visuoproprioceptive (e.g., by the participant’s passive movements and appropriate avatar animation).

Enhancing the Sense of Self-Location.
Self-location is influenced by the origin of the visual perspective and the associated vestibular and tactile information. Clearly, a fundamental requirement is for there to be the first-person perspective with respect to the position of the eyes of the artificial body.

Enhancing the Sense of Agency.
The sense of agency is sensitive to any temporal discrepancies between the execution of a self-generated movement and visual feedback. Hence, visuomotor correlations should be provided maintaining critical time boundaries (see Franck et al., 2001). The sense of agency is easily provided in virtual reality when the motion of the participant is mapped to the virtual body in real-time or near real-time. This can be achieved either by tracking rigid bodies (by rigid reflective markers) attached to the participant’s limb and computing the avatar’s movement by an inverse kinematics method (Yuan & Steed, 2010), or by tracking the full-body movements of the participant with a real-time motion capture system and applying the resulting motion to the avatar (Slater, Spanlang, & Corominas, 2010).


Below is an example of VR project, where the theme of empathy explored through the lens of immersive storytelling.

Hunger in Los Angeles by Nonny de la Peña.

The concept of immersive journalism was introduced by de la Peña et al. (2010) as “the production of news in a form in which people can gain first-person experiences of the events or situation described in news stories.” To accomplish this, de la Peña et al. (2010) used virtual reality (VR) technologies, such as head-worn displays (HWDs; Cakmakci and Rolland, 2006), to allow people to enter virtual worlds and scenarios representing actual news stories.

In addition to immersing the audience in the visuals of the news story’s location, de la Peña et al. (2010) contended that it is even more important that the audience member’s “actual body has transformed, becoming a central part of the news story itself.”

To accomplish this, they tracked the head rotations of the user and then applied those same rotations to the head of a virtual avatar resembling a Guantanamo Bay detainee, which could be seen from both a first-person perspective and a third-person perspective, thanks to a virtual mirror. They took this approach to invoke a sense of body ownership (see Common Immersive Technologies) of the virtual detainee’s avatar within the audience members.


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