Theses Doctoral

Effect of Virtual Reality on Empathy and Ageist Attitudes in Nursing Students

Quay, Catherine

An aging global population has brought attention to the presence of age bias in health care and the role it plays in contributing to health disparities in the older population. This increased awareness provides nurse educators with an opportunity to examine innovative, evidence-informed educational interventions that aim to decrease bias and change attitudes. Immersive, experiential strategies that promote empathy may improve attitudes towards older adults.

There is limited research in nursing education that examines the effect of immersive teaching interventions on learner empathy and attitudes. A quasi-experimental control group study was conducted to evaluate the effect of a virtual reality experience on nursing student empathy and attitudes towards older adults. Learners assigned to the intervention participated in a virtual reality experience where they were immersed into the story of an older adult. The virtual reality experience provided learners with the opportunity to view segments of the scenario from the first-person perspective. Virtual reality also allowed them to experience sensory and other age-related changes associated with aging and daily life. The control group completed a narrative case study that presented the same story depicted in the virtual reality.

Lastly, all learners participated in a standardized patient simulation to evaluate empathic behaviors. There were no statistically significant differences in empathy or attitudes towards older adults between groups; however, both groups had significant improvements on both variables. The concept of narrative transportation, which suggests that students engaged in narrative stories are likely to have improved empathy and a change in beliefs and attitudes towards the story character and representative demographic, was used to examine participant engagement. Engagement scores did not differ between groups.

Associations between the study variables were explored. Positive and statistically significant relationships were observed between empathy and attitudes towards older adults, engagement and empathy, engagement and empathic behaviors, empathy and empathic behaviors, and engagement and attitudes towards older adults. Further analysis showed that learner engagement and empathy predicted empathic behaviors.

These findings add to the limited nursing education research on empathy and virtual reality and show that narrative patient stories can improve empathy and attitudes towards older adults in nursing students. These findings add to the evidence that supports the use of virtual reality in nursing education; however, the VR modality may not be superior to other educational strategies when presenting patient stories.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Health and Behavior Studies
Thesis Advisors
Dickinson, Jane K.
O'Connell, Kathleen Ann
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
February 21, 2024