Racial bias overcome in virtual world

By Sophie Barclay

Just 10 minutes in a virtual body of another skin colour was enough to address an implicit racial bias in light-skinned females.  Photo / Getty Images
Just 10 minutes in a virtual body of another skin colour was enough to address an implicit racial bias in light-skinned females. Photo / Getty Images

Human rights: According to scientists, many people exhibit a level of subconscious racism. However, new research from the University of Barcelona shows that this so-called 'implicit racial bias' can be countered by donning a virtual reality suit for a mere 10 minutes, and seeing themselves in a different body.

Sixty 'light-skinned' women from Barcelona initially undertook an implicit racial bias test. This involves viewing faces of varying skin colour and associating them with words that had positive or negative connotations (for example lazy versus motivated). White people displaying an implicit racial bias tend to associate light-skinned faces with positive traits and darker-skinned faces with negative traits.

Those who showed a level of implicit racial bias donned suits and were transformed into virtual avatars. Through the head-mounted display and a series of motion sensors, they were transformed into a room with a mirror. When participants moved parts of their body, their reflected virtual body imitated the actions.

Catalan participant Mari Sol said she soon got used to her new body. "First I felt strange. But later on I felt comfortable with my new body. When I looked at myself in the mirror with another colour of my skin I didn't realise that it was not my real colour."

Participants retook the implicit association test in their new body, while still wearing the head-mounted display. Those participants who had been placed in a dark-skinned virtual body showed a decrease in their implicit racial bias. ?

Research Professor Mel Slater, who led the project said that it gave participants an experience of being a member of a minority group and the research giving participants an experience of being a member of the minority group, research showed that light skinned people in a dark skinned virtual body had a decreased racial bias. "The type of body you have seems to influence how you behave, what your thoughts are and so on."

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