NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism (NSAF) is a cross-platform project grounded in several applications of technology including product design, Virtual Reality (VR), and social-psychological/cognitive impact/biometric/fMRI research. Our core technology explores parallax and real-time rendering inside of Unreal 4 to create an active audiovisual Virtual Reality experience. Embodiment is augmented with an Oculus Sensor tracker and headset to allow for room scale immersion and positional feedback. The VR experience transports our viewers into a NeuroCosmetology lab, a reimagined black hair salon, placing the viewer into a black woman’s body and giving a glimpse into a speculative future of black women pioneering brain research and neuromodulation through the culturally-specific ritual of hair care.
African American women have a history of negative representations in entertainment media, often appearing in low prestige and highly sexualized roles. Real African American women earn cents to the dollar compared to white men, and over 97% of women of color in STEM fields report having experienced job discrimination. In exhibitions of NSAF at SXSW and Sundance Film Festival, we wanted to see if exposure to an immersive VR narrative told from an African American point of view, and depicting black women in positions of power, impacted audience perceptions of black women. Combining pre- and post- viewing Implicit Association Tests with coded qualitative interviews, we found a measurable decrease in perceptual bias of African American women in positions of power. In addition, the extent to which viewers experienced a sense of embodiment in an African American female body was a key predictor of impact, while those whose daily experiences included a diverse workplace found it easiest to immerse themselves in the body of another.