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‘The Machine To Be Another’: Virtual Body-Swapping to Build Empathy

Using tech to bridge the gap between neuroscience, psychology and art.

November 8, 2016

We’ve all heard some variation of the old idiom:

“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.”

An ambitious experiment from the artist collective BeAnotherLab utilizes virtual reality technology takes the idiom a step beyond shoe-swapping, simulating what it feels like to be in a different body. The Machine To Be Another, a virtual reality body-swapping experience, was featured at TWIST360°, a queer-immersive media festival in Seattle produced by fearless360º.

The research concept behind the experiment describes an aspiration to bridge the gap between neuroscience, psychology and art:

“As part of this collective society, the importance of understanding the ‘Other’ and ‘Each Other’ to better understand ourselves is clear. This multidisciplinary artistic investigation plans to use the recent neuroscience approach of ‘embodiment’ and apply it to investigate the perception and comprehension about the Self based on the comprehension of the ‘Other.’”

In addition to offering a virtual reality experience that may be a tool for cultivating empathy, clinical applications for diagnoses such as body dysmorphia are being explored.  Though the brief run in Seattle ended in October, The Machine To Be Another is an open-source project, so others can recreate or build upon the virtual reality experience. 


Aileen Imperial

Aileen Imperial is a multimedia and documentary producer with a commitment to thoughtful observation and engagement. Her work has aired nationally on the PBS American Masters series, PBS NewsHour, and she is a 3-time Emmy winner for feature videos in the Arts, Culture, and Human Interest. Find her on Twitter: @imperealize

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