Harnessing the Psychological Power of Virtual Reality to Enhance Leadership in High Diversity Teams in STEM

From The Theme

What if We could use VR to enhance leadership training and capacity for a diverse workforce?

VR Leadership Image

We set out to explore whether professional success in a virtual environment can have “spill over” effects in the real world, and to measure the duration and durability of these effects. In particular, researchers set out to investigate the effects of timely, scalable leadership affirmation intervention administered through Virtual Reality (VR), targeted to minority groups interested in STEM. Researchers hypothesized that a VR leadership experience that reduces a minority member’s stereotype threat and affirms their leadership efficacy will increase their leadership aspirations and performance.

The first phase of the project involved three web-based studies on American adults recruited from Amazon Mechanic Turk to examine whether minority identity in STEM (female) is stereotypically associated with lower leadership capacity and access, and whether such stereotypes, once activated, diminish leadership aspiration. These web-based pilot experiments found that affirmations increased women’s comfort in taking on leadership roles, but did not necessarily increase a sense of competence. Significantly, researchers found that making gender a salient cue – by asking participants to note their gender – did not improve results. In fact, the influence of affirmations on women’s comfort in leadership roles was strongest in the two studies that did not highlight gender.

For the second phase of the research, researchers translated insights and best performing practices from the online pilot study for lab-based VR studies. This second phase investigated the effect of VR-based affirmation exercises on a participant’s comfort with a challenging leadership role. It explored if VR avatars can induce the same psychological responses as real people. After the virtual experiences, participant leadership efficacy and aspiration were measured.

Cohen, Geoffrey L., Julio Garcia, & J. Parker Goyer. 2017. “Turning Point: Targeted, Tailored, and Timely Psychological Intervention,” pp. 657-686 in Handbook of Competence and Motivation, 2nd Edition. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Powers, J. T., Cook, J. E., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Garcia, J., Apfel, N., & Cohen, G. L. (2016). Changing environments by changing individuals: The emergent effects of psychological intervention. Psychological Science, 27(2), 150–160.

Cohen, G.L. & Sherman, D. K. (2014). The Psychology of Change: Self-Affirmation and Social Psychological Intervention. Annual Review of Psychology 65:333-71.

Geoffrey CohenGeoffrey Cohen is Professor of Organizational Studies in Education and Business, Graduate School of Education; Professor of Psychology and Professor of Organizational Behavior (by courtesy) at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Professor Cohen’s research examines processes related to identity maintenance and their implications for social problems. One primary aim of his research is the development of theory-driven, rigorously tested intervention strategies that further our understanding of the processes underpinning social problems and that offer solutions to alleviate them.

Alice KathmanduAlice Kathmandu is the 2015 recipient of the Stanford Graduate Fellowship and a Ph.D. candidate in Developmental and Psychological Sciences at Stanford Graduate School of Education. She uses behavioral experiment, content analysis, neuroimaging and computational simulation to investigate how people interact with science and technology, the cultural and political antecedents of these tendencies and their consequences.