Virtual Reality helps Crime Research

Last Monday on 07/02/2022, Iris van Sintemaartensdijk defended her PhD thesis about preventing burglaries in urban neighborhoods. One part of her study is to use a virtual environment (VE) to study the effects on criminal behavior when using special signs. These signs are used by criminals for warning other potential criminals that either there is a neighborhood watch with a Whatsapp chat group or that the police is keeping this area under watch because of previous crimes. 

Besides these signs among criminals, one study presented at the Journal of Experimental Criminology also looked at the effects of having so-called Guardians in the neighborhood. Guardians are human avatars that appear in some of the front yards, they can or can not look at the participant and even talk to them. The Tech Labs of the Network Institute created a large virtual environment for experimenting with guardians. Over 60 houses were present in the virtual environment so that participants could roam freely through the neighborhood and assess whether burgling any of the houses would be interesting. Because of the size of the environment, several technical challenges needed to be overcome.

Research like this focuses on creating a natural and realistic environment so that participants really start to behave as they would in real life. Any distractions that will remind the participant that the environment is actually not real – the so-called breaking of the suspension of disbelief – has to be avoided as much as possible. Tricks to ensure a smooth operation of these computational-heavy applications that are often used in games, are often not usable inside a research-oriented virtual environment. The Tech Labs has extensive experience in creating virtual environments for many different purposes. If you have any questions about using such a tech solution yourself, please do contact us!

Snapshots from the Virtual Environment