Violent Emergencies

Mel Slater, Dav­id Swapp, Ait­or Rovira, Mark Lev­ine, Claire Camp­bell, Jian J. Zhang, Richard South­ern


The aim of this pro­ject is to improve the qual­ity of immers­ive social vir­tu­al envir­on­ments. By ‘qual­ity’ we refer to the response of par­ti­cipants to vir­tu­al social situ­ations, in par­tic­u­lar the extent to which they respond real­ist­ic­ally to what they per­ceive. By ‘response’ we mean at every meas­ur­able level, ran­ging from non-con­scious physiolo­gic­al pro­cesses through to overt beha­vi­or­al, emo­tion­al and cog­nit­ive responses – includ­ing what they report in inter­views about their sub­ject­ive state of mind [1]. We aim to identi­fy the most import­ant aspects to cre­ate a plaus­ible vir­tu­al envir­on­ment. We want to focus on the qual­ity of the vir­tu­al char­ac­ters tex­tures, anim­a­tions, real­ist­ic illu­min­a­tion and the envir­on­ment where the situ­ation takes place.

One of our goals is to exploit our research in socially use­ful applic­a­tions, and thereby also con­trib­ute to the grow­ing body of research that uses VEs as a labor­at­ory for social psy­cho­lo­gic­al research. We want to revis­it well-stud­ied mech­an­isms in the social psy­cho­logy lit­er­at­ure, and observe wheth­er we can achieve the same degree of inter­ven­tions using IVEs. We focus on the bystand­er effect [2] mod­er­ated by in-group and out-group iden­ti­fic­a­tion [3].


One of the major prob­lems that social psy­cho­lo­gists face when study­ing the prob­lem of street viol­ence is the lack of inform­a­tion about what actu­ally happened. CCTV foot­age does not provide much inform­a­tion, due to a poor image qual­ity, a nar­row field of view and no sound record­ing. Wit­ness accounts are not very reli­able either, their opin­ion is usu­ally not very ration­al and even con­tra­dict­ory depend­ing on who do you ask about the situ­ation. Spe­cially if they are asked some days later, memor­ies are dis­tor­ted and nobody remem­bers what exactly happened. There are also dif­fi­culties to recre­ate such situ­ations in an exper­i­ment­al set­ting using real act­ors, both for eth­ic­al and prac­tic­al reas­ons.


To over­come these obstacles, we util­ise an immers­ive vir­tu­al envir­on­ment (IVE), inhab­ited by vir­tu­al char­ac­ters to enable the sim­u­la­tion of viol­ent situ­ations and there­fore the abil­ity to study the beha­viour of exper­i­ment par­ti­cipants [4]. We want to take advant­age of the res­ults in pre­vi­ous stud­ies [5, 6] that showed that people tend to respond real­ist­ic­ally to situ­ations and events that occur in an IVE [7].


This research was sponsored by the Engin­eer­ing and Phys­ic­al Sci­ences Research Coun­cil (EPSRC).


The use of virtual reality in the study of people’s responses to violent incidents

Ait­or Rovira, Dav­id Swapp, Bernhard Span­lang and Mel Slater

  title={The use of virtual reality in the study of people's responses to violent incidents},
  author={Rovira, Aitor and Swapp, David and Spanlang, Bernhard and Slater, Mel},
  journal={Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience},
Bystander Responses to a Violent Incident in an Immersive Virtual Environment

Mel Slater, Ait­or Rovira, Richard South­ern, Dav­id Swapp, Jian J. Zhang, Claire Camp­bell, Mark Lev­ine

  title={Bystander responses to a violent incident in an immersive virtual environment},
  author={Slater, Mel and Rovira, Aitor and Southern, Richard and Swapp, David and Zhang, Jian J and Campbell, Claire and Levine, Mark},
  journal={PloS one},
  publisher={Public Library of Science}