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}