Using Virtual Reality to Encourage Prosocial Behavior

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  • Name: Robin S. Rosenberg
  • Location: NYC
  • Graduation Date: Ph.D. in 1987
  • H index: 2


Credit: Live in Their World.

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

I have a PhD in clinical psychology, and for many years had a psychotherapy practice and executive coaching practice. In addition, I write college-level psychology textbooks and have done research related to different facets of identity. Currently, I’m the founder and CEO of Live in Their World, a company that uses virtual reality to address issues of bias and incivility in the workplace and help people develop skills for respectful engagement.

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I became certified in hypnosis and, in reading the early psychology of virtual reality literature, I realized that like hypnosis, VR creates dual consciousness—a state in which we simultaneously hold the “reality” of what we are experiencing in VR as well as the reality that our bodies are having a different experience (e.g., sitting in a chair in an office). I realized that the technology and the power of dual consciousness would have major implications for how people could experience empathy and drive behavior change in the workplace.

Around the time I was collaborating on research on VR, the world was hearing about the frequency of young Black people being killed by white people, including police (2012 on), which led to a surge in focusing on Black Lives Matter. In turn this led some white people to say “all lives matter.” I don’t presume to know the lived experience of being Black, but I hypothesized that if white people could get enough of a sense of a Black person’s lived experience, they would understand what the statement Black Lives Matter really means and, in turn, wouldn’t say “all lives matter”.

Please describe the process of learning, iterating, and creating the project.

It wasn’t until early 2018 , when the Oculus Go VR headset was in the works and soon to be released, that VR technology made the idea feasible. That timing coincided with the rise of the #MeToo movement. A venture capitalist had heard my idea earlier on, and in 2018 offered to fund a proof-of-concept study to see whether her idea could move the needle on gender bias and awareness.  That research ended in 2019: Men experienced, from the perspective of a 35-year-old white woman,  various work situations in which there was gender bias or incivility. After the VR experience, users could more accurately identify workplace situations where there is a gender-related issue and have decreased stereotypic responses about women and work (on the Gender-Career Implicit Association Test).

Once I analyzed the data and read the incredibly positive user feedback I thought that if I can move the needle on these issues, I needed to. Soon thereafter I started working on the project full time.

The above is a photo from Jovontae’s Story, part of our program offering about the lived experience of the workplace for a typical Black man. 
Credit: Live in Their World.


If anyone is interested in doing virtual reality research, what do you think are really interesting unanswered questions?

Great question: If VR experiences are realistic (e.g., a trip to Paris rather than a trip to Mars), after a few years, are people likely to (mis)remember the experiences as having actually taken place?

If I “do” something illegal in a VR experience, am I more likely to vote differently on a related issue (or as a juror) than I would have voted before the VR experience?

How and when did you launch your project?

We publicly launched three weeks ago; we engaged a PR firm to help with the launch.

Do you have any advice for people in your shoes to create networks that helped get your initial study funded? How did you meet this venture capitalist, and do you have any tips for people to create that network for opportunities like this?

The only advice I have for people is to talk about their ideas to people who may be in a position to help finance it (including friends and family) or sites like IndieGogo.

Since launch, what has worked to make your project grow/be successful?

It’s only been a few weeks, but companies are definitely interested. Although the idea for the company developed previously, the tragedy of the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd have catalyzed deep motivation among non-Blacks both to learn more about the lived experience of being Black, and to learn what they can do to change things.

Were you nervous at all in making the jump from private practice/academia to entrepreneurship? What have the biggest hurdles been? What resources have you used to learn?

Yes, I was nervous. Money/expertise was a hurdle: the more tasks I could (learn to) do, the less I’d have to pay someone else to do them. But the more tasks I do, the less time I have to do the tasks that only I could do. I’ve learned to rely on my advisors, who are wonderful. I feel very fortunate to have them.

How is everything going nowadays, and what are your plans for the future?

It’s gratifying to see people be moved by our program, and we look forward to reaching more people and continuing to build out our program offerings.

Through your science, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I think being a psychologist–with the deep training in both the scientific method and the knowledge base of what psychologists have learned about people–provides a wonderful vantage point for helping people. I feel very fortunate to have had the training I’ve had.

Our readers would like to know more about you. Could you please let us know how does a typical day look for you?

Most days are a mixture of meetings, presentations, and writing/product development.

And what does your workstation look like?

I usually work in a reclining chair, feet up, laptop on my lap.

What secondary software and apps do you use daily?

I use a combination of Google, Microsoft, and Apple products. Plus Zoom, of course…

What have been your most influential podcasts, or other resources?

PsycInfo–a tool to search the psychology literature.

What tools do you use in your personal life? Cook? Self Care? Hobbies?

I enjoy cooking (though I miss going out to eat, which I’m not doing because of COVID). I also play guitar and sing, and so do that with my husband, who plays bass guitar.

Thank you very much for your time, Robin. Where can we go to learn more?

LiveInTheirWorld’s Website

LiveInTheirWorld’s LinkedIn

LiveInTheirWorld’s Twitter