A new and potentially sinister use of Virtual Reality is being developed: assessing potential paedophiles and other sex offenders.
The test involves showing suspected paedophiles artificially generated images on children while the subjects of the tests are strapped with a Penile Plethysmograph device, a cuff-shaped sensor that measures blood-flow to the penis. The theory is that paedophiles are more likely to be sexually aroused by images of children and that this can be measured by the plethysmograph.
Penile plethysmography itself has been around for many decades and has been used to assess the risk of re-offending. But there has always been an ethical problem regarding what images can be shown to the subjects. Now, scientists at the University of Quebec in Outaouais have developed a test that works around these ethical objections.
In the present tests the subjects wear stereoscopic 3D headsets in addition to the penile plethysmograph. They are then shown, through the headset, artificially generated images of nude people of both genders and various age groups to identify what types arouse them sexually.
The headset it also equipped with eye-tracking technology to ensure that they are avoiding looking at the images by looking away.
'We do develop pornography,” said' Patrice Renaud, the head of the research. “But these images and animations are not used for the pleasure of the patient but to assess them.”
The research - which was conducted in August 2016, involved some 60 male subjects, some of whom had been convicted or were accused of sex offences and others who had so criminal records or accusations pending against them pertaining sexual interest in minors. The subjects were shown 3D animations of virtual characters for five 60-second periods, in each case followed by a 30 second period without the virtual character.
Renaud was able to reach conclusions about 54 out of the 60 subjects. However Renaud is mindful of that fact that sexual propensity alone is not a strong indicator of behaviour. Those with psycho-sexual disorders might also possess an ethical sense, cognitive faculty and capacity to empathize with human suffering, all of which might enable them to resist the temptation to indulge their aberrant sexual desires.
So his team is now using a combination of electroencephalography and Virtual Reality, using a head cap with multiple electrodes to identify whether the subject shows an empathy response to facial expressions of pain, fear and sadness in the virtual child.
'If we find that the guy is attracted to children and doesn't feel empathy for the fact that the child is in pain,” Renaud said, “that's good information for predicting behavior.'
Nevertheless, we at bestvr.tech remain skeptical.