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Virtual reality could encourage pro-social behaviour and empathy in children

Parents aren't convinced however, and just 38 per cent agree

Virtual reality could help diminish racial bias and encourage empathy in children, according to a report from Common Sense Media.

The non-profit organisation which promotes safe technology and media consumption among children recently published its report, Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR.

It includes an up-to-date synthesis of existing VR research, along with a new survey of parental attitudes.

The report found that while parents remained cautious around the technology, with 60 per cent at least "somewhat concerned" that their children will experience negative health effects, it also extolled the benefits of VR for fostering empathy and pro-social behaviour.

"VR is an exciting new technology that is already showing promise in teaching children important life skills such as empathy and perspective," said James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense.

"There is still a lot to learn about VR, and we have a responsibility to parents and educators to understand how it impacts child development so they can minimise the potentially negative effects while maximising the positives.

"As advocates and researchers, we have a unique opportunity to stay on top of this emerging technology and influence its development to help kids learn, achieve better health outcomes, and enhance their entertainment."

However, just 38 per cent of all parents think VR will help children empathise with different people. This number jumps up slightly to 53 per cent among parents of eight to 17-year-olds who are already using VR.

Although most parents have concerns around VR, 62 per cent saw the education benefits. In households where children are already using VR, this number jumps to 84 per cent.

A number of parents reported their children are experiencing health issues with the use of VR, including 13 per cent who have bumped into something, 11 per cent who have experienced dizziness, ten per cent who have headaches, and eight per cent who have eye strain.

The report encourages caution, highlighting the powerful effects VR can have on children as it can provoke a virtual response that is difficult to distinguish from an actual experience. It notes that characters in VR may be especially influential on young children, even more so than television and conventional game characters.

Jeremy Bailenson, the head of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, added: "While VR research is limited, parental concerns about safety are legitimate, and there are some simple things they can do now to help protect their kids, from physical protections, like setting time limits and creating a safe space for kids to sit down and experience VR, to being aware of content and talking to kids about what they are experiencing, including the difference between real and virtual characters."

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