Challenges to develop an interactive 3D virtual world for psychological experiments

Lemmon, Colin, Lui, Sui Man, Cottrell, David, and Hamilton, John (2012) Challenges to develop an interactive 3D virtual world for psychological experiments. In: Proceedings of the European Conference on Games-Based Learning. pp. 278-284. From: 6th European Conference on Games Based Learning, 4-5 October 2012, University College Cork and Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland.

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This article is a case study which discusses the implementation of a 3D virtual world application that will enable psychology students to conduct experimental investigation for the testing and analysis of models and theories relating to operant conditioning.

Teaching and learning in psychology focuses on how people think, feel, and behave. Students must learn to use scientific methods to collect data from participants, and then analyse the data to testify related models and theories learned in the classroom. Experiments may be performed to study at different levels: individuals, groups, organizations, and communities.

In the real world there are limited opportunities and various challenges for undergraduate students to be involved in experimental investigations.

1) There are difficulties recruiting participants. This often results in the use of convenience samples which typically consist of undergraduate students. This problem is compounded in campuses with a low student population where there is a limited variety of participants. This may be further effected by the cost of participation compensation. These issues may result in small sample sizes or skewed samples which can makes statistical analysis meaningless.

Currently, lecturers may provide a dummy data set collected from previous research for students to conduct data analysis. This is a simple solution; however, students do not practice appropriate experiment design nor learn to administer surveys for data collection.

2) There are difficulties conducting longitudinal studies relating to reinforcement or induced behavioural changes due to time limitations. This is essential for some theories and models such as developmental psychology which may require longitudinal studies over many years.

3) It is risky to allow undergraduate students to conduct experimental investigation on human subjects. Performing these tasks in a virtual world will allow students to explore a range of psychological phenomena without the need for close supervision required when dealing with human subjects.

In response to these issues, the proposed virtual world application will use intelligent agents and 3D avatars with physical, physiological, and emotional responses. Students will interact with the avatars, participate in the virtual world to conduct experimental investigation, collect behavioural and emotional data, and analyse the data.

When conducting the investigation, students will provide rewards/punishments to induce reinforcement/changes to the avatars' behaviour based on learning theory. This will cause the behaviour of the avatars to change with experience. For example, an avatar that is rewarded for engaging in a behaviour will have a higher probability of displaying that behaviour in the future (operant conditioning). If the avatars are punished they will be more likely to decrease that behaviour, as well as displaying emotional responses (such as fear of the person administering the punishment). Thus, over time, the behaviour of the avatars in the virtual world will take on unique characteristics as a function of their interactions with students.

The proposed application will enhance students learning experience in research design and analysis involving human subjects that would normally be difficult or impossible to conduct in undergraduate psychology subjects within a single study period.

Item ID: 23255
Item Type: Conference Item (Research - E1)
ISBN: 978-1-908272-69-0
ISSN: 2049-0992
Keywords: intelligent agents, virtual world, learning, reinforcement, research design
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© The Authors.

Date Deposited: 31 Aug 2012 06:44
FoR Codes: 08 INFORMATION AND COMPUTING SCIENCES > 0801 Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing > 080111 Virtual Reality and Related Simulation @ 70%
17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1701 Psychology > 170199 Psychology not elsewhere classified @ 30%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and Cognitive Sciences @ 50%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970108 Expanding Knowledge in the Information and Computing Sciences @ 50%
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