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Unraveling the persuasive power of 360º-video Virtual Reality narratives

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PersVR (Unraveling the persuasive power of 360º-video Virtual Reality narratives)

Période du rapport: 2019-09-01 au 2021-08-31

For a large part of the population, many of the world’s most pressing problems (e.g. humanitarian crisis, natural disasters) may stay distant (i.e. the problem materializes elsewhere, but not here) and abstract (i.e. most people are not directly confronted to their consequences). The perceived psychological distance to the problems can make people remain unconcerned about their serious implications and the urgency to take action to face them. This stresses the need for effective communication tools that portray these problems in a more directly graspable, experiential way. One technological solution in this sense could be Virtual Reality (VR). The vision, often addressed as “immersive journalism”, is that, by putting viewers “in the middle of the story", VR might help turn abstract and distant problems (e.g. suffering of refugees or the melting of the Arctic) into more palpable problems, and, consequently, instigate more pro-social and pro-environmental beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. However, the theoretical understanding and empirical evidence about these questions are very limited. PersVR aims to change this situation, by developing a theoretical model of the persuasive effects of non-fiction VR/360-video stories and empirically testing it with real 360º-video VR contents, on two specific topics: stories about refugees, and stories about climate change. Besides, the project aims at developing methodological knowledge on the measurement of the persuasive outcomes of immersive narratives.
The work conducted has involved an extensive review of the existing literature in the project's topics, the integration of the existing evidence, and the development of the theoretical model on the persuasive effects of VR storytelling, as well as the implementation of the experimental studies for empirically testing the model. Due to covid-related restrictions for laboratory research, the empirical testing of the model has suffered a delay, and it will be completed during the following months. The collected data will also allow for analysing the advantages and disadvantages of the various combinations of methods applied in laboratory studies.
The theoretical model developed in the project represents an integration of the various, disconnected theoretical approaches that can explain different persuasive effects of immersive narratives. It advances our understanding of the diverse psychological mechanisms that may interact during exposure to non-fiction VR narratives. Once empirically validated, the model may guide future uses of VR storytelling in domains like journalism, documentary, or education. This way, the work conducted may contribute to more effective use of VR technology in these domains, enhancing its potential as a tool to foster pro-social attitudes and behaviors in domains such as humanitarian crises or climate change communication.
Image of the headsets and physiological equipment used in the research