Exploring the Power of Immersion and Emotion for Intervention Design
TWCF Number
Project Duration
August 1 / 2022
- July 31 / 2024
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
North America
Amount Awarded

* A Grant DOI (digital object identifier) is a unique, open, global, persistent and machine-actionable identifier for a grant.

Calvin Lai
Institution Washington University in St. Louis

Evidence-based social programs are needed to reduce the expression of prejudice and promote social justice. However, efforts to combat prejudice are often marked by limited effectiveness. In response, an interdisciplinary team of experts in prejudice reduction, affective science, and experiential design are implementing a novel intervention program, designed to increase empathy as well as facilitate humble engagement around topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Inspired by the virtual, science-based Walk-in-My-Shoes experience, the team has developed a new program featuring point-of-view immersive experiences in the context of diversity and inclusion of people of different race, gender, sexual orientation, and income level. For this novel intervention, cinematic-quality films where people with marginalized identities share their experiences with social exclusion were constructed. The program combines engaged viewing of these films with exercises designed to develop a nuanced and specific understanding of the emotional experiences, such as allowing people to explore objects along with the video and audio clips.

Unlike typical interventions in the field, this team has developed a process that draws from psychological principles to facilitate an emotional understanding of the topic in addition to a cognitive understanding. Co-developed with leading psychologists, the intervention does not seek to persuade individuals of a specific view, but seeks instead to equip them to engage in more open-minded discourse as they better understand the perspectives of others. By leveraging this process, the intervention aims to help participants develop a broader understanding of the unique experiences of other individuals in a potentially polarizing context.

Further developing emotionally granular experiences through this intervention could lead to actions that are better tailored to navigating intergroup interactions and managing intergroup tension. The team has developed three hypotheses with emotional engagement as the key research question:

  • Interventions that employ immersive narratives will promote greater empathy and action to combat inequality than a matched control. 
  • Interventions that facilitate greater emotional granularity will promote greater empathy and action to combat inequality than a matched control. 
  • The effects of greater immersion and emotional granularity on empathy and action to combat inequality may be additive or interactive.

These studies will examine the long-term efficacy through triangulation across self-report, physiological, and behavioral measures. The project will draw from the unique partnership between Calvin Lai, Assistant Professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences at The Washington University, Micah J. Wonjoon Kessel, a design strategist focused on the study of emotion at Empathable, and Lisa Feldman Barrett, president of the Association for Psychological Science, to produce new insights into how innovations can be discovered and developed. Using best practices in open science the team will work together to provide guidance for researchers aiming to accomplish the same goals. This unique combination of expertise presents a strategic opportunity for TWCF to support an innovative project and trial a new kind of interdisciplinary partnership that may be useful in the future.

Opinions expressed on this page, or any media linked to it, do not necessarily reflect the views of Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc. Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc. does not control the content of external links.
Person doing research
Projects &
Explore the projects we’ve funded. We’ve awarded hundreds of grants to researchers and institutions worldwide.

Projects & Resources