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August 9, 2013

Virtual ‘cow’ to test empathy for animals

'Cow' experience simulates a life destined for the slaughterhouse.

By Ben Sullivan

Researchers at Stanford University in California have developed a virtual reality ‘cow’ experience, where volunteers wear a headset that transports them from the laboratory to a virtual pasture.

Those who take part in the research can ‘see’ the pasture around them and are directed to feeding troughs by the lab workers. It allows the volunteers to experience life as a cow destined for the slaughterhouse, and is hoped to provide useful information about the empathy humans can feel towards animals.

Among those who experienced life as a cow, several said it would make them think twice about eating beef. However, others said it would not change their dietary habits.

"We were really interested in the theory of empathy," said Joshua Bostick, a Stanford University researcher.

"Could you identify with this cow avatar and how did it make you feel about the environment and maybe things that you could do to make a small little difference."

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