Virtual reality: negative emotions weaken levels of engagement

12.00 | 27 June 2017 | | 9 comments

Research into the use of virtual reality (VR) road safety films suggests that playing on negative emotions through the use of, for example, a crash scene weakens the level of engagement and is likely to lead to participants detaching themselves from the scenario.

The study, commissioned by Safer Roads Humber and carried out by Road Safety Analysis (RSA), also found that the use of a VR film as a standalone activity will not lead to the required behaviour change, and as such the films should be used as part of a wider intervention such as a classroom presentation.

Described as a ‘new and innovative method of delivering content at interventions’, VR technology is gaining in popularity among the road safety community.

Much of this is due to an increase in its affordability and commercial application, as well as the quality of material that can now be displayed through it.

The RSA research, which evaluated the psychological and physiological effects that take place when viewing differing types of content through 360 VR headsets, centred on the ‘Virtual Reality Fatal 4 – 360 (VF4 360)’ film.

Developed by Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service in 2016, VF4 360 is designed to give young drivers the ‘most realistic experience’ of a road traffic collision from the front seat passenger’s perspective.

The research, conducted among more than 120 college students, explored the impact of the VF4 film in standard 2D, compared with the 3D VR film. The researchers found a ‘clear distinction’ between viewing the films in these different formats – with 3D having a greater impact on students.

Safer Roads Humber hopes the research will enable road safety professionals to understand how ‘different emotional stances affect the level of presence when using VR’, thereby allowing practitioners to build upon current projects and take VR to the next stage.

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    The target audience for this VR work can watch real life video clips of people losing their lives on Youtube, so a mocked-up crash isn’t likely to have much effect on those we really want to get to.

    If anything, showing clips which highlight the risk taken by some young drivers actually serves to elevate the status of those who do it. They subconsciously think that their mates now know how dangerous it is, so if they choose to ignore those dangers it proves how brave/fearless they are.

    David, Suffolk
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    I noted your comment that:
    “A good RSO knows where and how and for how long to use such crash scene material for each target audience. How? by years of evaluating the impact of events they have already delivered and feeding that back into refinements to the structure of the next lesson plan”

    and then again in the context of Tanya’s comment

    “The major problem we have is that there is an awful lot of evidence about why fear appeals don’t work but we don’t have a lot of evidence about what does work instead”.

    Given the scarcity of evidence supporting the use of what we are generally calling ‘crash scene material’ and making a working assumption that your crash scene material corresponds with what Tanya is calling ‘fear appeals’ are you able to share the evidence you’ve gathered showing it has a place in effective RS education? I’m not familiar with any so would be grateful for any pointers. Thanks.

    Jeremy, Devon
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    Michael is quite right – there is a lot of evidence which explains why graphic images are not as effective as might be expected, especially amongst young men. ‘Fear appeals’ are supposed to work by arousing fear, which should lead to avoiding the behaviour. What has been found in many studies instead is that fear appeals lead to attempts to avoid the unpleasant feelings that are evoked. The types of response created to deal with the unpleasant feelings include: ignoring the message; failing to process the threatening part of the message; denying the personal relevance of the message; and seeing the message as a challenge. The major problem we have is that there is an awful lot of evidence about why fear appeals don’t work but we don’t have a lot of evidence about what does work instead.

    This is why it is important that we should be looking to relevant behaviour change models and BCTs when designing interventions and of course, evaluate them to determine effectiveness. I would recommend the recent guide created by Fiona Fylan for the RAC as a good resource:

    Tanya, Banbury
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    I think Bob hits the mark on this – is it what is known as optimism bias? A belief ‘it won’t happen to me’ and, in spite of errant behaviour, it usually doesn’t (there are usually no bad consequences) makes graphic imagery easy to deflect. We have worked with psychologists specialising in driver behaviour since the mid-90s. They continue to advise that, while such imagery is memorable and may generate discussion, it is not internalised (for the reasons Bob and Ruth have outlined). We need to be looking at BCTs which are effective with our target audiences.

    Michael, Edinburgh
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    While I do agree that videos that are positive are a great introduction to VR, I think it is the videos that perhaps have more negative emotions attached to them that have a greater impact. I know that when I have shown people VR it is the horror experiences that they will react to the most and talk about with friends afterwards. I would have concerns that if we only showed positive videos in road safety that the experience would become too vanilla and therefore forgetful. After all, the generation we are primarily showing these grew up with Grand Theft Auto and the Saw films! Perhaps the solution would be to have a mix of films – both positive and negative – that you could show in a classroom setting and these could be discussed?

    Jen Stark, Glasgow
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    Bob Craven’s contribution made me wonder why we tend to blame anything but ourselves. Here are some ideas:

    Andrew Fraser
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    Safer Roads Humber would like to thank Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service who took the brave step of creating one of the first road safety VR films which opens up a whole new world of tools and techniques for road safety practitioners.

    The report is lengthy but the key results are as follows:-

    1. There is a clear distinction between viewing film in their different formats, with the 3D VF4 having a greater impact on the students than the 2D version.

    2. The report suggest that using a scenario which focusses on playing on negative emotions (i.e. a crash scene) actually weakens the level of presence, so participants could separate themselves from the scenario.

    3. Exposure of using the VR film (6-7 mins long) as a standalone activity is too short to effect behaviour change. For this reason the majority of partnerships are using the VR film as part of a wider intervention e.g. classroom presentation.

    We would urge anyone using VR to share their experiences so that as a road safety community we can develop this new and exciting way of interacting with people.

    Ruth Gore, Safer Roads Humber
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    Showing crash scenes to event participants has been a part of road safety education for many years. We may have moved from still photos to video/film clips to VR goggles but the key is not the technology but has always been the broader lesson plan and running the event through the engagement of RSOs and other road safety professionals. “Behaviour change” may be a buzz term these days but changing behaviours is (or should be) always what good road safety education is about. A good RSO knows where and how and for how long to use such crash scene material for each target audience. How? by years of evaluating the impact of events they have already delivered and feeding that back into refinements to the structure of the next lesson plan.

    Pat, Wales
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    There is no doubt that showing such horrific films to an audience will turn off a lot of participants as they don’t want to see or hear or listen to awful life experiences. So that could have a negative effect on some. Also one of disbelief that it could ever happen to them as they would not find themselves in the shown situation. They believe that they are better or safer drivers than those depicted on the film. In many they have a wrongful presumption that such circumstances would never happen to them. If it, or something similar does happen to them then they, as is human nature, tend to blame someone else for our demise thus denying any wrong doing.

    Bob Craven Lancs
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