The potential of virtual reality to study criminal and unethical behavior

  • Date: Oct 7, 2019
  • Time: 16:00
  • Speaker: Jean-Louis van Gelder
  • University of Twente
  • Location: MPI
  • Room: Basement

Compared to normative behavior, the study of criminal and otherwise unethical and rule-violating behavior poses particular challenges for researchers. For example, these behaviors often take place out of sight, and hence rarely allow for direct observation. Furthermore, disclosure of information tends to be less reliable for socially undesirable behavior, whereas ethical considerations place restrictions on the use of experimental designs. Immersive virtual reality (VR) yields unique potential as a research tool in these contexts. VR has the ability to mimick the real world and provides the opportunity for real-time observation of behavior while maintaining experimental control. In this presentation, I will elaborate on the research potential of VR technology, devoting particular attention to two recent research projects that use VR in the domain of criminal decision-making. Specifically, I will present recent findings from a project in which convicted burglars undertake mock burglaries in a virtual neighbourhood. The realistic simulation of a real-world neighbourhood enables examining the burglary event as it unfolds and testing the effectiveness of measures aiming to deter burglars. Furthermore, I will discuss FutureU, a project that uses special software to create aged visual analogs, ‘avatars’, of participants in order to have them ‘meet’ and interact with their future self. The goal of this project is to instill a more future-oriented mindset and reduce criminal conduct. Together these projects serve to demonstrate that VR can provide an ecologically valid alternative to traditional methods, create research possibilites that are hard to realize otherwise, and allows for the study of phenomena that may be difficult to examine in the real world.

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