Creating Empathy Through Interactivity

Empathy is the identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives. It is a powerful emotion and everyday advertisements and news stories try to appeal to the pathos of the viewers. Pathos is one of three modes of persuasion stated by Greek philosopher Aristotle, appealing to one’s emotions. While appealing to pathos descriptive words can create an emotion, but it usually requires recreating the scene or event that would in real circumstances arouse the emotion. It is argued that pathos is the strongest of the appeals with the power of emotion to sway the mind.

With the decrease of people’s attention spans on the Internet, it is hard to capture the viewer simply through text on the Internet. Where people spend 25 minutes reading the newspaper, online viewers spend 70 seconds on a news site according to data from Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist. Interactivity is a way to allow active participation and engagement by the viewer. CEO of Eyewonder, John Vincent explains how video is an emotional and powerful way for advertisers to communicate with customers. The recreation of a scene visually can spark the real emotion of being in that situation, causing the viewer to feel empathy or some other emotion.

Jim Burch, a marketing executive, realized the need for engagement during trade shows. He decided to replace old display methods with touchscreens where the users could touch, pinch, and swipe the screen to navigate through clinical images. The increase in interactivity at the station resulted in an increased average time at the exhibit by 20 minutes. Although he was not directly evoking empathy, Burch put users in a real situation allowing them to see what it was like to be a radiologist.

The engagement and interaction of a user is what can really appeal to pathos and this can be accomplished through a game. For example, the game Spent challenges users to make it through a month financially after being unemployed, a single parent, with only $1,000 to start. The game gives scenarios that many people across the United States deal with daily. By selecting a certain answer, an outcome is presented making the game a very real experience for the player. The game creates empathy by putting the user in the position of someone trying to make ends meet on a budget.

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