Virtual Reality

Virtual reality may find use in assessing sex offenders

Virtual reality may find use i...
An eye-tracking VR system lets administrators see what parts of an image sex offenders are drawn to
An eye-tracking VR system lets administrators see what parts of an image sex offenders are drawn to
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An eye-tracking VR system lets administrators see what parts of an image sex offenders are drawn to
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An eye-tracking VR system lets administrators see what parts of an image sex offenders are drawn to
The University of Montreal's Massil Benbouriche, in front of the VR vault
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The University of Montreal's Massil Benbouriche, in front of the VR vault
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People who have been charged with sexual offenses typically have to undergo psychotherapy in order to control their deviant impulses. According to researchers at the University of Montreal, virtual reality may provide the best method of determining if that therapy has indeed worked – before those offenders are released back into the public.

Currently, the most common testing technique (for men) is what's known as penile plethysmography. This involves placing a ring-style sensor around the offender's penis, then measuring any changes in its circumference as they're subjected to a variety of visual or auditory stimuli. One problem with this approach is that subjects can skew the results by diverting their eyes from the images.

In the U Montreal research, however, the stimuli used in penile plethysmography consists of computer-generated images of people, that are shown on multiple screens within a cube-shaped VR "vault." This is much more immersive for the subject than simply looking at a single screen.

More importantly, eye-tracking hardware is used to monitor the direction of the subject's gaze as the images are being presented. This lets administrators know if they're not looking at the images, or if they're spending too much time looking at the on-screen peoples' erogenous zones.

The stumili can be made more realistic by placing the people in settings such as bars or homes, plus factors such as their age, gender or race can be altered in order to fit the compulsions of the individual being tested.

The University of Montreal's Massil Benbouriche, in front of the VR vault
The University of Montreal's Massil Benbouriche, in front of the VR vault

In its present form, the VR tech has yielded results similar to those obtained using other methods, for identifying deviant responses in sex offenders. Once developed further, however, it could end up being even better.

"Virtual reality may become a frequently-used clinical tool in forensic psychiatry within the next few years, both for judging how dangerous individuals are and for determining their ability to control themselves under various situations tested in virtual reality, thus allowing us to measure the effectiveness of therapies," said PhD student Massil Benbouriche, who is leading the research.

Source: University of Montreal

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6 comments
Facebook User
Let's hope it works better than the therapy of penile plethysmography on the teenager from Michigan that was guilty of under age sex with this high school girlfriend and so was labeled a "Sex Offender" and repeatedly subjected to look at child porn to gauge his penile response and told by his Probation Officers to run and hide from small children he may pass in a store parking lot and call them immediately to report he did it. The young man committed suicide after years of persecution for what is no longer a sex crime in Michigan because their 10 year experiment to curb teen pregnancy was deemed ineffective but 300,000 young people (men and women) still remain labeled RSOs for the rest of their lives.
Brian M
This seems highly dubious way of monitoring offenders who might be a risk. Its not that hard to use bio-feedback methods to learn to control autonomic responses. That's what makes lie detectors unreliable. This technique has the disadvantage that the feedback is a lot more obvious to the subject than measuring skin resistance, heart rate, breathing etc., read easier to practice a null response to a stimuli. Even the ring itself might interfere with the results (positive or negative) - not a sensible technique.
Ernest Joseph Roberts
This is a very promising therapy. The odds are currently four to one against rehabilitation.
flink
@Brian M It's actually targeted towards evaluation and testing rather than monitoring.
Michael Erickson
Let me see how this works, you attach a wire to a guys penis and show him porn, then if he gets hard he is a sex offender. Might as well lock up every guy in the world.
Kimo
For it to be considered a serious and usefull tool, it would have to be tested on a large and randomly selected group of males of different ages, and see what the results are.