Master's Thesis

Enhancing Clinical Empathy Through Embodiment in Virtual Reality


Anne Smets


Processing Period:

11.09.2023 - 22.04.2024


Virtual reality (VR) offers a wide range of opportunities for psychiatric medicine training. Virtual agents in the role of patients can be used to test disease-specific therapy procedures and approaches. One skill that medical students train is empathy towards patients. This master thesis investigates how empathy towards virtual agents in the patient role can be increased. For this purpose, the influence of perspective-taking through increased embodiment in a virtual patient background story will be investigated. Embodiment enables users to better understand perspectives other than their own, thus enhancing perspective-taking. As a result, users develop a closer empathic connection to the virtual characters portrayed. Using an embodiment-enhancing format to present a virtual patient's backstory could thus combine the benefits of different forms of psychological training. The embodiment of the patient and his symptoms could lead to a higher degree of perspective-taking and, therefore, more empathy towards the virtual patient.