Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Empathear: Design of a system to elicit empathy in siblings of voice hearers

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posted on 2021-11-15, 16:27 authored by Mokhtar, Sarah

It is said that one in five adults will be affected by some form of mental disorder every year, and nearly half the population (45%) will experience a mental disorder at some stage in their life (SaneAustralia, 2004).  This research poses the question: ‘How can design elicit empathy in siblings of voices hearers? Testing and using a designed device to simulate dynamic Auditory Hallucinations or ‘Voices’ in order for family members to experience an in-depth understanding of their own reaction to hearing ‘voices’. With multiple studies affirming that families are crucial to recovery, this thesis research targets families to provide an education on how to positively perpetuate the recovery of a loved one suffering from hearing voices.  Empathy is the driving concept of this research, challenging the ability of a designed devices ability to elicit empathy. Through the design of a wearable technology scarf and smart phone App (both entitled Empathear) created to emulate ‘voices’, this thesis has developed and tested, a product-service system that provides family members a simulated voice hearing experience which can be undertaken in the family home and out in the general public. These voices adapt to the wearer’s environment, becoming louder, softer, more intense or relaxed. Using Empathear outside of the home is very important to this research as it allows family members to see what it is like to speak to members of the public with the distraction of voices.  This research identified four common themes expressed by those interviewed: - Distraction and Concentration - Personal Adaption into a Progressional Experience - Empathy and Appreciation - Positivity for the Future  Empathear fills a gap in the market, helping families to take control, becoming their own instigators of positive change. From a case study of user testing of the chosen design output – the Empathear App, it was found that this research was successful in achieving improved empathetic concern, with all sibling participants acknowledging a change in empathy towards their loved one. This generated a motivation, especially in younger participants, to improve the future of their loved one akin to Daniel C. Batson’s Altruism (Chapter 5.1 Types of Empathy).  This research worked to avoid personal distress in participants by allowing them the option to turn the App off at any stage, giving participants free range on how they wanted to orchestrate their personal voices experience. Empathear has given premise to understanding that distinguishing the illness from our loved one can be achieved through understanding our own reaction to voices. Participants were given an experience of how their personality could be tested by this adversity, allowing them to recognize the reasons behind their loved ones day to day actions and reactions.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Industrial Design

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Design Innovation

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970112 Expanding Knowledge in Built Environment and Design

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Design


Rodriguez, Edgar