Fostering empathy in social Virtual Reality through physiologically based affective haptic feedback
We study the promotion of positive social interactions in VR by fostering empathy with other users present in the virtual scene. For this purpose, we propose using affective haptic feedback to reinforce the connection with another user through the direct perception of their physiological state. We developed a virtual meeting scenario where a human user attends a presentation with several virtual agents. Throughout the meeting, the presenting virtual agent faces various difficulties that alter her stress level. The human user directly feels her stress via two physiologically based affective haptic interfaces: a compression belt and a vibrator, simulating the breathing and the heart rate of the presenter, respectively. We conducted a user study that compared the use of such a "sympathetic" haptic rendering vs an "indifferent" one that does not communicate the presenter's stress status, remaining constant and relaxed at all times. Results are rather contrasted and user-dependent, but they show that sympathetic haptic feedback is globally preferred and can enhance empathy and perceived connection to the presenter. The results promote the use of affective haptics in social VR applications, in which fostering positive relationships plays an important role.