Feb. 21 - The 'bystander effect' describes a phenomenon in which the greater the number of people who witness a violent incident, the less likely it is that anyone will intervene. For behavioral psychologists it is an extremely difficult subject for study but now, a virtual reality tool depicting a troubling scene in a bar, is giving them new insight. Jim Drury reports.
UPSOT: ANIMATED CHARACTERS BEGINNING ARGUMENT In real life we all dread witnessing a scene like this. UPSOT: ANIMATED CHARACTER TALKING AGGRESSIVELY And research shows the more people in the vicinity the less likely it is anyone will intervene. Known as the 'bystander effect', it's a phenomenon that has intrigued behavioural psychologists for decades. But it's been notoriously difficult to study...until now. Researchers from Bournemouth University and University College London believe their interactive animation can help. The system immerses real people - volunteers - in a virtual scene displayed by a high resolution projector that opens in a bar. UPSOT: PROFESSOR MEL SLATER SAYING: "You'll be going into a bar and somebody will be coming to talk to you" The scene quickly becomes uncomfortable. A confrontation between two soccer fans at the bar is beginning to escalate and the volunteers, who are wearing 3D head-tracking glasses, have become reluctant observers. UCL Virtual Reality lab manager David Swapp says the glasses are designed to recreate reality. SOUNDBITE (English) DAVID SWAPP, MANAGER OF IMMERSIVE VIRTUAL REALITY LABORATORY MANAGER AT UCL, SAYING: "They have inertial mechanisms in them, a little bit like a Wii controller, but it also has an ultrasonic ranging system which keeps the inertial system, provides very rapid low latency updates, and the ultrasonic system keeps it accurate." The soccer fans are played by two actors. They were recorded earlier, reading from a script while wearing motion tracking markers attached to their clothes, allowing animators to create a realistic portrait. Swapp says volunteers soon become immersed in the scene. SOUNDBITE (English) DAVID SWAPP, MANAGER OF IMMERSIVE VIRTUAL REALITY LABORATORY MANAGER AT UCL, SAYING: "Right now you look around at the screens, it's quite obvious to see that they're screens and that they have displays on them and if you look you can actually see the borders between them but when you're engaged in an environment here you very quickly forget about that." Professor Mel Slater and colleagues selected volunteers by burying a question about their team allegiance in an initial questionnaire. Only Arsenal fans, like the animation's victim, were chosen. It led to some interesting initial findings. SOUNDBITE (English) MEL SLATER, PROFESSOR OF VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENTS AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON (UCL), SAYING: "We found that those who interacted with the Arsenal fan....they intervened much more....The other finding is that in half of the participants the victim would turn to look at them sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes and then the other half of the participants the victim didn't particularly look at them and what we found again is that people interpreted that look as a plea for help and they were more likely to intervene." The British police and army are considering using the system as a training tool to diffuse confrontational situations. UPSOT: ANIMATED CHARACTER TALKING AGGRESSIVELY Researchers also hope policymakers may use it to help society overcome the innate human response to stand by while nasty situations like this escalate. UPSOT: ANIMATED CHARACTER TALKING AGGRESSIVELY