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Headspace VR

Study Examines Audience and Empathy / May 2017


The VR Empathy Spectrum

Both filmmakers and researchers agree that VR has the potential to deeply impact our
attitudes, perception and behavior on empathy. But is it a shot in the dark; a moment in
time that dissipates once the headsets removed? Or, is it the empathetic version of the
energizer bunny where empathy keeps going and going; taking root as compassion
inside of us?

The reason we spend so much time on this recreation rather than have
you watch a video or listen to the audio standing alone by itself is
because of this astonishing sense of presence the technology affords.
you feel like you're actually there. You feel like you're a witness to this
event and if we can make people understand how difficult these
circumstances are perhaps they can actually start to think about what
kind of change that they too can help bring about. --Nonny de la Pea,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jN_nbHnHDi4

In order to better inform the news industrys investments and types of VR experiences
they offer that effectively engage their audiences, we developed a preliminary study to
establish methodology and find some initial recommendations for VR narratives to move
from empathy to sympathy to compassion -- a spectrum that if triggered effectively,
support citizens becoming more aware, engaged and activated. We offer some initial
findings on attributes that foster a viewer's empathy and recommendations on what
could trigger enhanced engagement, moving beyond cognitively being aware of
anothers journey to being sympathetic enough to seek more information to having
compassion and wanting to take action.

Path of entry

To establish methodology, we conducted a preliminary study inviting eight college-age
students between the ages of 20-26-years old who reside in Los Angeles, CA and study
Journalism at USCs Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. These early
participants identified as early-career journalists and were eager to test out VR and
better understand new story formats to identify best practices in creating VR journalism.
Over four weeks, the participants viewed six virtual reality stories from major media
outlets, journalists and/or filmmakers (See Appendix A). At the close of each viewing,
participants received a Take Action worksheet which provided additional points of action
to further immerse oneself in the subject matter from watch it again, share it with a friend

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and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
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Headspace VR
Study Examines Audience and Empathy / May 2017

or on social, read more, write the creator, join the movement, donate to the cause and /
or download the publishers app and watch more.

Our combined methods of collecting both quantitative and qualitative data included:
Pre-surveys from each participant to gauge their previous VR experience, their
motivations for engaging with media, and their overall journalism consumption
habits.
Post surveys from each participant after viewing each narrative for a total of 48
post surveys.
Video diaries from each participant for a total of 24. Participants had the option
of writing a blog post or posting a video reflection on Medium.
Three focus groups in class after all participants viewed Fight for Fallujah, Pearl
Harbor Attack Re-Enactment and 6x9: A Virtual Experience of Solitary
Confinement (abbreviated version)
The other three narratives (Project Syria, Clouds over Sidra and Zambia, Gift of
Mobility) were viewed outside of class. Post one on one interviews and data
collection using neuro-technology, biosensors that tracked heart rate and skin
conductivity were done with these. For the neuro-technology, dependent
variables collected included
Emotional intensity which captures the basal level of emotion (sometimes
called "emotional attention" or engagement) during the experience.
Emotional activation (tonic part of the EDA) which captures the degree of
variation of the intensity of emotion during the experience.
Emotional impact (phasic part of the EDA) which captures responses to
events in the experience.
For this preliminary study, we used two variables, the average impact responses
amplitude and the number of events per unit of time that cause an impact during
the experience.
All six narratives included head tracking data.

A comparison analysis looking at each data set side by side was conducted. Both head
tracking data and the biosensor data was overlay on the timeline of the video. This
allowed for targeting specific moments in the narrative to compare the qualitative and
quantitative data.

What the preliminary study points to...

VR breathes with story and character.

Narrated 3rd Person View from a live action character was the #1 attribute
across the 6 stories that 100% of participants (8) felt most attributed to a strong
story. Post survey results showed Clouds over Sidra had the strongest

A collaboration between ybVR, reillyWorks, LLC


and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
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Headspace VR
Study Examines Audience and Empathy / May 2017

storytelling quality and biosensor data affirmed participants had a significant


higher emotional intensity with it than with the other narratives.



Many shared walking alongside Sidra and hearing her story gave a sense of
inhabiting the space and better identifying and sharing in the complex emotional
feelings characters portrayed. This, in return, stirred affective empathy in each
participant.

A personal narrative makes people care about the story and,
thus, feel immersed and involved in the outcome of their lives. I
could relate to the VR experiences and empathize with the
characters struggle or living situation when I had a subject to latch
onto emotionally. GV

VR is a medium that has the potential to reinvent the closeup. Its an intimate
space. You have the immediacy of being right there next to a character with a
close proximity that might be invading in real life. Without overwhelming a
person in real life, within VR, one has the chance to stare at someones face and
see the emotions unfold. Its about can VR put me closer to you in a way that it
makes me feel for you more. Participants didnt feel as connected when the
experience lacked this.

I felt that it was hard for me to identify with any character in
Project Syria because they did not have a human face. For
example, at the end of the piece, it shows a refugee camp and it
shows children who are appearing at the camp. While it does
show the urgency of the situation, all the animated children that
were appearing in the piece did not have a face so it was hard for
me to connect with them. CG


Environment is the heartbeat of 360.

Even though many participants realized they were in a classroom sitting in a
chair viewing the story through a VR headset, this sense of duality that Nonny
de la Pena talks about was obvious with a sense of being there encouraging
the most emotional impact. The Fight for Fallujah, Clouds over Sidra, and 6x9
were the 3 narratives where Imagining you were there experiencing the story
too had the highest percentage for emotional impact. A viewer is no longer
watching from afar but rather situated in the middle of the environment. This
makes space a new medium to purposefully consider when creating your story.

A collaboration between ybVR, reillyWorks, LLC


and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
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Headspace VR
Study Examines Audience and Empathy / May 2017


However, though Project Syria didnt resonate across all participants as
immersive, it did have the highest emotional activation with the three narratives
used to collect data with the neuromarketing biosensors.




Emotional Activation is events (something that happens) that instantaneously
captured the attention. Project Syria correlation of all data shows that one
moment (when the bomb goes off) had the highest emotional activation.

A collaboration between ybVR, reillyWorks, LLC


and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
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Headspace VR
Study Examines Audience and Empathy / May 2017


Across all participants, reaction is similar to what a user would do if they were in
that type of location during a bomb giving the place illusion of being there with
the characters.

"Because all of the stories focused on war and conflicta theme that can
feel quite far away and impossible to grasp for a person who has not
personally experienced the conflicts of warit seems that generating true
empathy in a viewer is rooted in the development of some shred of a
personal connectiona common groundbetween the viewer and the
characters in each respective story." EC

By correlating the interviews, surveys and head tracking data of the six
narratives, Clouds over Sidra proved to take advantage of 360 best and the only
narrative where all participants watched through to the end of credits with the
creator considering the use of environment in a 360 to continue to engage the
audience til the very end of credits.

My favorite piece was Clouds over Sidra. This story was
memorable because not only did it transport me to a refugee
camp and show me how people there live, but it also made me
feel compassion toward Sidra, her family and the rest of the
refugees. This piece used strong storytelling since it was narrated
by someone who escaped Syria and is living in a refugee camp.
The storytelling techniques were also good because it portrayed
different areas of a camp such as: A bakery, schoolroom, Sidras
living space, computer room, the gym, and soccer field. Overall I
think that this piece worked because I felt like I was living there
and it made me care for the characters and it made me want to
help.CG

Pearl Harbor and Zambia, Gift of Mobility had minimal head tracking beyond
looking straight ahead at center of frame.

A collaboration between ybVR, reillyWorks, LLC


and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
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Headspace VR
Study Examines Audience and Empathy / May 2017




When correlated with survey and interview data, participants shared these two
stories did not need to be watched in 360. They were too similar to porting over
programming styles shaped in other spaces whether it was broadcast journalism
for Zambia, Gift of Mobility or too similar to what I could see in a museum with
Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor felt educational instead of immersive, personal or
thought-provoking. I feel that this was a failed VR story because I
would have preferred watching it on another medium, like a
television screen, or simply just going to the museum myself.
MA

A collaboration between ybVR, reillyWorks, LLC


and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
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Headspace VR
Study Examines Audience and Empathy / May 2017



The old adage, KISS it -- unnecessary complexity should be avoided.

"I think, in some cases, as with 6 x 9, a heavy reliance on
animation helped the producers convey the impact of the content.
However, in the case of Project Syria or Pearl Harbor, I felt as
though reliance on graphics and animation to tell the story actually
diminished its immersive quality, and served as a constant
reminder to methe viewerthat the world I was experiencing
was, in fact, merely a simulation, rather than a replicated world of
which I was a part." EC

In post surveys, 5 out of the 6 narratives stated audio is the most important
technical quality in the experience. Re-defining sound engineering inside 360
degree span of viewing is what all narratives should strive to achieve.

6x9 had incorporated spatial audio into the experience and this alone would have
been enough in a confined space. If looking at only the head tracking data of 6x9
(99% engagement), one would assume that the use of 360 was just as important
because of the constant head movement exploring the entire 360 experience.
Engagement with these quantitative points of analysis are not always positive.
With a confined environment of a 6x9 jail cell, the use of text sporadically placed
across the entire 360 canvas was the reason for the head movement.

A collaboration between ybVR, reillyWorks, LLC


and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
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Headspace VR
Study Examines Audience and Empathy / May 2017



However, 100% of participants (8) complained that text was a distraction from
engaging in the experience. In fact, across all 6 narratives, in choosing which
quality (audio, text, animation or visual cues) supported the story best; text had
the lowest ranking.

If youre thinking about layering audio, text, animation and video, pay close
attention to whether it is necessary. Being more simplistic with a focus on higher
production value and quality continued to appear as important to participants.

"Because the purpose of VR as a media platform seems to be its
potential to immerse its viewer in the story its trying to tell, it
seems somewhat counterintuitive that higher quality graphics
might actually detract from its ability to create a powerful
emotional impact. I think, in some cases, as with 6 x 9, a heavy
reliance on animation helped the producers convey the impact of
the content. However, in the case of Project Syria or Pearl
Harbor, I felt as though reliance on graphics and animation to tell
the story actually diminished its immersive quality, and served as
a constant reminder to methe viewerthat the world I was
experiencing was, in fact, merely a simulation, rather than a
replicated world of which I was a part. EC


Grab them in the moment.

Combined data sets prove that participants related to the story, identified with the
characters, and became immersed enough that they felt as if it was happening.
However, the immersive experiences did not have enough of an impact to last
past removing the headset and stepping back into real life. With post survey data
pointing to interest in taking action and multiple reminders over 4 weeks after
viewing, only 4 of the 8 participants took minimal action after viewing the
experience. Those 4 students re-watched 3 of the 6 narratives [Clouds over
Sidra (100%), Zambia, Gift of Mobility (50%) and 6x9(25%)] with only 1 of the

A collaboration between ybVR, reillyWorks, LLC


and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
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Headspace VR
Study Examines Audience and Empathy / May 2017

students watching it via a Google Cardboard (the rest watched it on their


computers).



Of the 4 participants who took additional action, only 1/2 shared with friends, and
both experiences were shared in person around one screen rather than sharing
via social media. This shared experience was Clouds over Sidra with words
such as powerful and engaging as to reasons why it was shared. Only of
participants took time to download the publishers app and seek out additional
VR content with NYT and The Displaced being the two additions beyond the
scope of the study mentioned.

None of the additional points of action on each Take Action handout (read more,
write the creator, join the movement, donate to the cause and / or download the
publishers app and watch more) were completed by participants. Upon
reflection during the focus group, all agreed experimentations of embedding
actions at the close of narratives would help. More than half of the participants
discussed the importance of already having some shared knowledge on the
subject in order to be brought into taking action, which concluded with the VR
story as being only one part of immersing people into the subject matter.

This is a missed opportunity. It could be a way for these stories
to connect with NGOs on the ground and offer ways for people to
support these issues. -AD


Mindfulness Tips for your next VR experience

Tips to improve VR stories correlates with core attributes to being mindful and fostering
an empath.

A collaboration between ybVR, reillyWorks, LLC


and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
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Headspace VR
Study Examines Audience and Empathy / May 2017

STOP - This is not traditional filmmaking so stop trying to recreate what you can
do in other mediums. Be open to what VR has the potential to be. You have this
moment in time for the viewer to lose oneself and shift focus from real life -- take
advantage of it by exploring all senses and not just what the eyes can see.

LOOK - Allow things to be what they are and let the sense of space speak for
itself. Dont try to overproduce with different techniques or bells and whistles.
For the pilot participants, less is more but focusing in on making the details of
your chosen media work best is important.

ACCEPT - Accept this reality and be in the moment to grab the viewers attention
and turn this moment of empathy into compassion thats long-lasting. Without
turning the experience into an advertisement with lots of pop ups, consider subtle
triggers at the close during credits to extend viewers attention directly after the
experience.


Next Steps

This small pilot study was to establish the methodology and test out technology with a
small set of participants. We seek additional support to expand this study with more
participants and scope. We will ensure a good mix of participants with VR experience
from none to advanced participant, as well as a range of diversity (race, education,
gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic) in our participant pool. In addition, two of the
areas we would like to expand the research to include sports and breaking news virtual
reality storytelling. Both of these areas have extremely limited research available, if any,
and are emerging as possible areas of growth in VR content production and distribution.
Our intended audience for the Head Space VR project includes VR and 360 storytellers
and deliver a white paper, video with highlights of the study, and an interactive
guidebook on VR best practices with key results from the Head Space VR project.



A collaboration between ybVR, reillyWorks, LLC


and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
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Headspace VR
Study Examines Audience and Empathy / May 2017


Appendix A: 6 Narratives in Study

For consistency, each VR narrative dealt with the themes of war and/or conflict.

PROJECT SYRIA, United Nations, USC & Nonny de la Pena
Nearly one half of Syrias 23 million people have been displaced in its civil
war and no group has been as severely affected as children. Children
make up more than half of the three million refugees living in camps or
makeshift housing and some news reports indicate that children are
actually being specifically targeted in the violence.

CLOUDS OVER SIDRA, United Nations, WithIn
Meet Sidra. This charming 12-year-old girl will guide you through her
temporary home: The Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Zaatari is home
to 130,000 Syrians fleeing violence and war, and children make up half
the camp's population. In this lyrical VR film, Sidra leads you through her
daily life: Eating, sleeping, learning and playing in the vast desert city of
tents.

THE FIGHT FOR FALLUJA, NY Times
Embed with Iraqi forces as they retake a city from ISIS and experience
the battle's aftermath.

ZAMBIA, GIFT OF MOBILITY, StoryUP / The Washington Post
Shot from the perspective of people who live on the ground in Zambia,
this 360-degree video provides a unique immersion into what its like to
live there without adequate mobility, and the obstacles endured trying to
navigate the countrys rugged terrain. But it also highlights one solution
that is, quite literally, lifting people such as Emmanuel Chilufya off the
ground.

6 X 9: A VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, The Guardian
(Abbreviated Version)
Whats it like to spend 23 hours a day in a cell measuring 6x9 feet for
days, weeks, months or even years? 6x9 is the Guardian's first virtual
reality experience, which places you inside a US solitary confinement
prison cell and tells the story of the psychological damage that can ensue
from isolation.

PEARL HARBOR ATTACK RE-ENACTMENT, VRtually There, USA Today
Network

A collaboration between ybVR, reillyWorks, LLC


and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
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Headspace VR
Study Examines Audience and Empathy / May 2017

Get an inside look at an infamous Japanese midget sub and experience a


stirring Pearl Harbor re-enactment.

A collaboration between ybVR, reillyWorks, LLC


and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
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