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Using immersive virtual reality and anatomically correct computer-generated characters in the forensic assessment of deviant sexual preferences

An Erratum to this article was published on 06 October 2015

Abstract

Penile plethysmography (PPG) is the gold standard for the assessment of sexual interests, especially among sex offenders of children. Nonetheless, this method faces some ethical limitations inherent to the nature of its stimuli and could benefit from the improvement of its ecological validity. The use of computer-generated characters (CGC) in virtual immersion for PPG assessment might help address these issues. A new application developed to design made-to-measure anatomically correct virtual characters compatible with the Tanner developmental stages is presented. The main purpose of this study was to determine how the virtual reality (VR) modality compares to the standard auditory modality on their capacity to generate sexual arousal profiles and deviance differentials indicative of sexual interests. The erectile responses of 22 sex offenders of children and 42 non-deviant adult males were recorded. While both stimulus modalities generated significantly different genital arousal profiles for sex offenders of children and non-deviant males, deviance differentials calculated from the VR modality allowed for significantly higher classification accuracy. Performing receiver operating characteristic analyses further assessed discriminant potential. Auditory modality yielded an area under the curve (AUC) of 0.79 (SE = 0.059) while CGC in VR yielded an AUC of 0.90 (SE = 0.052). Overall, results suggest that the VR modality allows significantly better group classification accuracy and discriminant validity than audio stimuli, which provide empirical support for the use of this new method for PPG assessment. Additionally, the potential use of VR in interventions pertaining to self-regulation of sexual offending is addressed in conclusion.

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Acknowledgments

Financial support for this project was provided by Canadian Institute for Health Research, and the Fonds Québecois de Recherche sur la Société et la Culture. We would like to thank the Philippe-Pinel Institute of Montréal, BéhaVR solutions Inc. as well as our research assistant Nicholas Longpré, computer scientist Sylvain Morel, and engineer Tarik Boukhalfi.

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Correspondence to Patrice Renaud.

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Renaud, P., Trottier, D., Rouleau, JL. et al. Using immersive virtual reality and anatomically correct computer-generated characters in the forensic assessment of deviant sexual preferences. Virtual Reality 18, 37–47 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10055-013-0235-8

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Keywords

  • Immersive virtual reality
  • Pedophilia
  • Penile plethysmography
  • Made-to-measure virtual characters
  • Sexual self-regulation