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Sara Ventura, PhD


I’m a scientist with an ustoppable desire of learning.

My research is focused on the use of technologies, especially Virtual Reality and Aumented Reality to improve clinical and social well-being.

My life is characterized by the multidisciplinary. I’m from Italy but I consider myself a global citizien. I obteined the bachelor degree (2013) in Social Pyshcology at Padua University (Italy), and the master degree (2015) in Marketing Psychology at Catholic University of Milan (Italy). Then I moved to Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM-Mexico) where I did the postgraduated internship in Cyberpsychology (2016). In 2017 I won an excellent grant (Santiago Grisolia) at University of Valencia at LABPSITEC group where I got my PhD in Clinical Psychology with a thesis focused on promoting empathy through Virtual Reality in the context of sexual harassment.

My academc carrer was always characterized by the study of Virtual Reality in Psychology. It was such as an illumination when I decided to investigate in this field. At University of Padua I used for the first time Virtual Reality in the laboratory, and I quickly understood its potentiality. At that time most of the people did not know this technology, and psychologists were scepticals about its adoption on our profession. For this reason my determination brough me to Mexico at Cyberpsychology Lab of UNAM where I could imrpoved the knowledges about the field.

My research is mainly experimental, in the lab context, with the goal to provide evidence based protocol.

My mission is to bring outside the laboratory the results of the investigations. I believe that technologies could contribute to building a better society.


phD Thesis

Promoting empathy through Virtual Reality experience: the case of sexual harassment.

Introduction: In the past decades, Virtual Reality (VR) has been exponentially adopted in clinical psychology for treating several psychological disorders and promoting well-being. VR is an advanced form of human-computer interface that allows the user to interact with and be present into a 3-D environment in a naturalistic manner. The use of VR has expanded to simulate not only the external world, but also the body experience, giving the illusion to embody a “virtual” body. When this illusion is successfully induced, the participant can perceive themselves as another person and feel the emotions of the embodied body. This model has been adopted to study empathy such as in sexual violence context to induce a change in men’s perspective, and empathy.

Objective: This doctoral thesis aims to achieve three general objectives: (1) to review and meta-analyze the existing literature on VR and empathy; (2) to investigate the effectiveness of a VR system based on a 360° video to induce the illusion of body swap with the (a) same gender, and (b) different gender; (3) to generate a 360° video on sexual harassment recorded from the perspective of a victim woman, and to test whether it induces positive changes in empathy, and decreases the violent attitude variables.

Method: The meta-analysis followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis method; the 360° video was recorded from the first-person perspective and compared with a non-invasive video; a 360° video was recorded from the perspective of a woman who was a victim of harassment, and compared with a narrative (counterbalanced design).

Main results: The meta-analysis included 7 articles with a total of 335 participants, the effect size of empathy was d+ = .44 and of perspective-taking was d+=.51. The embodiment study: (a) 42 participants participated in the study. The analysis showed significant results on the sense of embodiment for the same gender: ownership p = .003; agency, p < .001; location p = .013. (b) 46 male participants participated in the study. The analyses showed significant results for the sense of location p < .001, and property, p < .001, but not for agency p = .222. Study on sexual harassment: 44 male participants participated in the study. The main results were the carry-over effect for the 360° video data, namely the sense of empathy is significant when the 360° condition is presented first (p = .030), also for the perspective-taking variable; p = .012.

Discussion: This doctoral thesis showed that VR could positively change empathy, and in particular the 360° video based-VR can be an effective tool to generate the body’s illusion, and consequently changing the sense of empathy towards the other person.

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