News and events Tilburg University

VR application with vibrations makes you feel like an animal and stimulates empathy

Published: 17th September 2019 Last updated: 24th July 2023

To improve the empathy for wild animals which are being threatened by extinction, Alexandra Sierra Rativa, Marie Postma and Menno van Zaanen of the department of Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence have developed an application about a beaver, called 'Justin Beaver VR', which allows people to feel like an animal through Virtual Reality. The application is part of doctoral research on the influence of VR games on people.

This technologically advanced Virtual Reality creates the illusion of having a virtual animal body in a natural 3D scenario. In this virtual world, users can experience the simulation of a shot by illegal hunters at the end of the game. In addition to virtual reality glasses, the users experience physical feedback through a vest with vibration motors that allows the sensation of swimming in water, touching fish, and the shot of the hunter.

Feeling the animal's pain

The preliminary results of the research have shown that the appearance of the animal is important when it comes to pain perception and immersion. Users reported feeling pain when receiving the virtual shot, but this was stronger when they played a beaver with a natural appearance compared to other conditions such as more artificial appearances (robot beavers and amorphous figures like a marshmellow). This research was presented at a conference on innovation in education called LINC 2019 conducted by the University of Massachusetts-MIT (Boston) on June 18-20, 2019.


Contribution to the conservation of animal species

Through this research in Virtual Reality we can create future applications that enable users to have a highly emotional connection with animals and from there promote their conservation. In this way Virtual Reality might thus act as an affective machine.

For more information please contact spokesperson Tineke Bennema, tel 0031 6 19678521 or via e-mail: