People Can Use Virtual Reality To See Themselves As The Opposite Sex (NSFW)

Video Via Vimeo.
If you've ever looked at a member of the opposite biological sex and wondered, What does the world look like inside his/her head? an innovative new experiment from The Machine To Be Another project may have some insight for you. Researchers at the virtual reality lab and installation have been examining how technology, empathy, and, in the case of its Gender Swap experiment, gender identity, can intersect. Through head-mounted displays, users switch perspectives and effectively see through each other's eyes — in a profound exercise in embodiment.

In the video above, users stand facing a mirror or sit with their backs to their partner (someone of the opposite biological sex), and move in sync with each other. Although they touch and can feel themselves, they only see their partner's body and gestures. As long as their movements remain synchronized, the effect is consistently surprising, as the video gives us glimpses of each user's point of view.

This isn't a totally scientific experiment — after all, the users, many of whom are performers of some kind, were aware of the purpose of the project when they agreed to participate. (Just imagine the instant disassociation an unknowing user would feel during such an experiment.) Still, it's some of the most exciting progress we've seen to date, both in the world of VR and in terms of helping us understand gender identity.

Embodiment experiments, like those conducted by The Machine To Be Another, take the idea of "walking in someone else's shoes" almost literally. If this kind of technology can trigger a temporary thrill of living in another person's skin, couldn't it bridge gaps between disparate experiences, too?

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