Building Empathy Toward Community and Reducing Bias in a Chicago Police Sample: A Case for Perspective Taking and Reappraisal within Virtual Reality
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Gordon, Nakia S.
At the societal level, there is significant concern regarding police brutality towards Black individuals. Much of the research proposes implicit racial bias as a potential cause, yet, Intergroup Emotion Theory (IET) suggests that outgroup emotion and threat perception could also play a role. Interventions using perspective taking and counterstereotypical information often have a positive effect on implicit bias in predominantly undergraduate samples. The current study used perspective taking and counterstereotypical methods, incorporated with IET, to determine the ways emotion regulation promoted changes in empathy and implicit bias within a police sample. We examined the effects of a newly developed VR tool that showed a 360° scenario of a police-community interaction which promoted perspective taking and provided counterstereotypical information. To assess how perspective taking influences empathy, participants were shown the same scenario twice (counterbalanced across participants), filmed from two distinct angles providing an “Inner” perspective and “Outer” perspective. To convey counterstereotypical information, participants were shown “backstories” about community characters and police characters in the scenario. Participants, (N = 58) recruited from the Chicago Police Department, completed a series of questionnaires and the Brief Implicit Association Task before and after the VR tool. Results showed that the VR tool was effective at promoting empathy and reducing implicit racial bias. Empathy was significantly higher after viewing the community backstories (i.e. counterstereotypical information) compared to when viewing the scenario from both perspectives and the police backstories. Further, reappraisal was a significant predictor of empathy. Additional analyses demonstrated that empathy positively predicted intention to engage with community in the future. Results suggest that while the task as a whole reduces implicit racial bias, counterstereotypical information is most effective at empathy building. Indeed, reappraisal abilities and gaining a deeper understanding about one’s outgroup members appears to be critical for building empathy when in a threatening context and desire to engage with the community in the future. This could serve as a mechanism for repairing emotional divides between police and community.