How Does Embodying a Transgender Narrative Influence Social Bias? An Explorative Study in an Artistic Context

Frontiers in Psychology 11 (2020)
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Abstract

Virtual reality protocols inducing illusory embodiment of avatars have shown a positive impact in participants’ perception of outgroup members, in line with the idea that the simulation of another’s sensorimotor states might underlie pro-social behaviour. These studies, however, have been mostly confined to laboratory settings with student populations, and the use of artificial avatars. In an interdisciplinary effort benefiting from the heterogeneous sample within a museum, we aimed at quantifying changes in interpersonal perception induced by embodying a transgender man narrating his life. We compared an artistic methodology mixing virtual reality and elaborate sensorimotor stimulation to a more conventional primarily audiovisual virtual reality experience. We tested how these affect embodiment and the perception of transgender men as measured by a brief implicit association test and a questionnaire. No significant difference in embodiment nor changes in implicit nor explicit bias were found, the latter potentially due to the initially low bias in the group. We further assessed participants’ illusory embodiment as a function of age, finding a negative correlation between these. The results are discussed with respect to current theories of embodiment, differences between lab and real-life settings, and the intersection of art and science.

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