Volunteers at a laboratory on Stanford University's campus in California are being given a virtual reality headset, allowing them to experience life as a cow destined for the slaughterhouse.
Those taking part in the research can 'see' the pasture around them, and are directed to feeding troughs by laboratory workers. As they are given instructions on how to move their bodies and where to go, the volunteers see the cow avatar move correspondingly and begin to relate to it.
It is hoped that putting volunteers in the hooves of a virtual cow will provide useful information about the empathy humans can feel towards our animal brethren.
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."