How do criminals tick? Freiburg criminologists use virtual reality to look inside
Virtual reality is not just a gimmick, the three-dimensional virtual worlds can be extremely useful. The MAXLab in Freiburg, a criminological research laboratory, is now using the technology to study the behavior of criminals as well as witnesses in more detail. They want to know what makes these people tick so that they can make better provisions in the future.
The researchers observe the movements and decisions
The MAXLab, a new department of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Crime, is a real pioneer in this field, because no other independent criminological research laboratory carries out such experiments with VR or similar technologies. Of course, this technology cannot be used to read minds, but targeted analyzes are certainly possible. It’s not about harmless acts, but, for example, burglary or fights. The AI creates a virtual environment in which test persons with headsets and VR glasses experience certain situations authentically. The researchers observe the participants’ eye alignment, their movements and decisions.
In one scenario, subjects roam a residential area in search of a break-in opportunity. It may be late, but the neighborhood is densely populated, the lights are bright, and noise can be heard in each apartment. What are the burglars deterred by, where do they tend to strike most? How do the intruders scout out the area, how can a burglary be prevented?
The Ministry of the Interior relies on cooperation
“We know a lot about crime, but little about criminal behavior because most crimes go unnoticed,” explains senior criminologist Jean-Louis van Gelder. And that is exactly what should change. The Association of German Criminal Investigators assesses the project as helpful because their colleagues are already successfully constructing crime scenes using VR. The Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Interior is interested in an exchange to improve police security.