Can virtual reality and 3D gaming help people stand up for themselves in real life?

Virtual reality, SMU, assertiveness training, sexual assault

Journalist Wagner James Au, who delves into the details of all things Metaverse on his New World Notes blog, covered the research of SMU clinical psychologist Lorelei Simpson Rowe and her co-authors Ernest N. Jouriles and Renee McDonald.

Au’s coverage includes details of how SMU researchers developed the training simulation by modifying the popular first-person video game Half-Life 2, combined with a virtual reality headset.

Simpson Rowe, an associate professor and graduate program co-director in the SMU Department of Psychology, is lead author on the pilot study from SMU.

The virtual-reality simulation component of “My Voice, My Choice” utilizes a software program developed by Jouriles and McDonald in conjunction with SMU’s award-winning Guildhall video gaming program. Jouriles and McDonald are clinical psychologists in the SMU Psychology Department. Jouriles is professor and chair. McDonald is a professor and associate dean of research and academic affairs for Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

Results of their study found teen girls were less likely to report being sexually victimized after learning to assertively resist unwanted sexual overtures and practicing resistance in a realistic virtual environment.

The effects persisted over a three-month period following the training.

The New World Notes blog article, “Virtual Reality-Based Assertiveness Training Reportedly Leads to Less Sexual Victimization, Pilot Program Finds,” was published Jan. 28.

Read the full blog post.


By Wagner James Au
New World Notes

Can virtual reality and 3D gaming help people stand up for themselves in real life? In a pilot study developed by Southern Methodist University, a group of young women practiced assertiveness against male sexual aggression using a modified version of Half-Life 2 and a VR headset. After the training (dubbed “My Voice, My Choice”), as this summary indicates, the early results were extremely positive: “22 percent in the control group reported sexual victimization during the three-month follow-up period, compared to only 10 percent in the ‘My Voice, My Choice’ group.” (Emphasis mine, because it bears emphasis.) While this is just initial data working from a small sample, the growth of virtual reality makes this study one worth repeating in other pilot programs, so I reached out to the lead researchers, Dr. Lorelei Simpson Rowe and Anthony Cuevas, for more details on their training program:

What were some of the most interesting personal reactions to this simulation?

Dr. Lorelei Simpson Rowe: “Many participants were surprised at how difficult it was to be assertive. They thought of themselves as being able to be assertive, but found it more challenging in the simulations than they expected. At the same time, many of the participants also seemed to feel more confident after they successfully used the skills and got positive feedback from others.

“Most students chose to participate in the study because they were given gift cards to thank them for their time – they weren’t initially interested in the program – but afterward, they told us how important it was and that they felt all students should go through MVMC.”

What advice would you give other researchers and developers working on similar VR experiences?

Dr. Lorelei Simpson Rowe: “I think important next steps will include developing fully computerized protocols (i.e., those that don’t require an actor). Additionally, the simulations need to be realistic and consistent with experiences that participants might actually have.”

Read the full blog post.

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