360º Video For Better Advocacy?
Environmental messaging needs to be able to motivate people to change their behaviors and shift their perceptions. According to research in media and advertising, when someone feels a sense of presence while watching commercials, they are more likely to buy the advertised product. “Presence” means, in short, that a media experience feels real to the viewer. Encouraging empathy has also been shown to be an important factor in messaging to affect behavior change. As virtual reality technology has become more accessible, there has been a great deal of optimism about its potential for encouraging the empathy and presence needed to change people’s behavior. In this study, researchers tested the potential of virtual reality to convince people to eat less meat.
Virtual reality is a completely immersive experience. When someone is viewing a 360° video with a virtual reality headset, they are visually cut off from their physical surroundings. They may feel like a part of the events happening in the video. The researchers wanted to test whether this increased immersion created a greater impact on behavior change than traditional 2-D videos. For the study, they used a video that presented a narrative about the impact of meat consumption on global warming. It featured an off-screen narrator guiding the viewer through five different scenes, showing animal farming as well as environmental impacts of global warming.
Of the participants recruited for the study, one group watched a 360° version of the video, using an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and headphones. Another group of the same size participants watched the video on a tablet screen. The control group used an Oculus Rift and headphones to watch a thematically unrelated video. After the viewing experience, study participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire asked participants to rate their feelings of involvement and empathy during the video. Participants also had to rate their interest in vegetarian foods.
Participants who watched the 360° video using the Oculus Rift reported significantly higher emotional involvement with the video narrative than the other two groups did. When asked about interest in vegetarian foods, about 75% of the Oculus Rift viewers said they were interested in reducing meat intake. By comparison, 33% of the participants who viewed the video on a tablet screen reported an interest in eating less meat. Only about 9% of the participants in the control group, who watched an unrelated video, reported an interest in vegetarian foods.
After completing the questionnaire, study participants in all groups were presented with meat-topping and vegetarian-topping pizza, as a thank-you for participating. The researchers wanted to see whether the study participants would choose the vegetarian pizza as a result of watching the video. Out of the Oculus Rift viewers who took a slice of pizza, half of them chose the vegetarian pizza. By comparison, one third of the group who watched the tablet video chose vegetarian pizza. Nobody in the control group chose the vegetarian pizza.
Given the small number of participants in the study (under 70), it’s difficult to draw strong conclusions one way or the other. The results of this study show that advocacy videos presented in an immersive medium may help to change attitudes more than traditional 2-D videos – though our recent study with Animal Equality shows a relatively insignificant difference between the two different forms. Virtual reality is revealing itself to be a potentially important part of the environmental messaging toolkit, and given its potential, more study is certainly warranted.