University of Oulu

Inducing empathy towards upper limb impairments using a physical device and virtual reality

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Author: Koivisto, Jere1; Korpinen, Aki1; Rapo, Lasse1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Computer Science
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 3.9 MB)
Pages: 30
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Oulu : J. Koivisto; A. Korpinen; L. Rapo, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-06-22
Thesis type: Bachelor's thesis
Tutor: Georgiev, Georgi


Empathy is the ability to understand concepts deeply and intimately from the perspective of another person. Having this empathetic understanding of different medical conditions will help make more informed decisions when designing for a particular condition and increase the motivation for providing higher quality results. However, it can be quite challenging for people to easily gain this kind of empathetic knowledge without fully comprehending the extent to which a particular impairment affects someone’s day-to-day life. One of the most popular and effective methods of inducing empathy towards impairments is the use of empathy simulations. The basic concept of empathy simulations is to realistically simulate the limitations posed by an impairment so that the participant can gain a first-hand experience of what it is like to live with the impairment. Traditionally, these simulations were created using various physical means, but lately the use of virtual reality devices in these simulations has become more common. Virtual reality is essentially technology that allows the user to embody another persons perspective, which makes it exceptionally suitable for empathy simulations. The aim of our study was to investigate the generation of empathy towards upper extremity motor impairments using a mixture of physical and virtual means. For the purposes of this study, we built an arm mobility restricting harness to mimic an upper extremity motor impairment and a virtual reality environment of a home kitchen where the simulations took place. Two groups of volunteer participants experienced the simulation by performing simple tasks in the virtual reality environment while being limited by the mobility restricting harness. The difference between the groups was in having to recite different backstories for their simulated characters. Backstory for group 1 was in first-person, and group 2 for group in third-person. The stories were thought to target affective and cognitive empathy differently. The participants’ level of empathy was measured once before the simulation and once after the simulation using a collection of standardized questionnaires. The study showed significant increase in the level of emotional contagion over all participants (p < 0.044*) suggesting that the simulation increased the participants’ level of empathy in that category. No significant difference was measured between backstories, however, the results suggest the first-person story to assist cognitive empathy. The study also showed that the group with the backstory in first-person had better scores in all categories of embodiment suggesting that the first-person backstory enabled participants to better relate to their virtual character. Despite some promising results, further studies are needed to investigate empathy generation using a mixed physical and virtual empathy simulations.

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Copyright information: © Jere Koivisto; Aki Korpinen; Lasse Rapo, 2023. Except otherwise noted, the reuse of this document is authorised under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC-BY 4.0) licence ( This means that reuse is allowed provided appropriate credit is given and any changes are indicated. For any use or reproduction of elements that are not owned by the author(s), permission may need to be directly from the respective right holders.