Virtual Environments as Laboratories for Studying Human Behavior

Jodie Plumert, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Hank Virtual Environments Lab, University of Iowa


Virtual worlds open up vast new possibilities for studying problems that cannot be easily (or ethically) studied in the real world. One such example is how children cross streets with traffic. In a virtual environment, researchers can safely and systematically study how children cross roads, often putting them in high-risk situations (e.g., high density traffic). Professor Plumert will overview research findings from the Hank Virtual Environments Laboratory on how child (and adult) pedestrians and cyclists cross virtual roads, with a special focus on the problems encountered when conducting VR research with vulnerable populations. The talk will conclude with a discussion of potential ethical dilemmas raised by studying risk taking in virtual environments, and potential safeguards for protecting vulnerable research participants after they leave the lab.

Jodie Plumert

Jodie Plumert is Professor and Chair of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Iowa. She received her BA from Kalamazoo College and her PhD from the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. She co-directs the Hank Virtual Environments Laboratory with Professor Joe Kearney from the Department of Computer Science. She is also an associate director of the Safety Research Using Simulation (SAFER-SIM) DOT University Transportation Center at the University of Iowa. Her research interests include cognitive development, perceptual-motor development, and unintentional childhood injuries. She is an expert in using virtual environment technology to study the development of perception-action skills such as how children and adolescents make gap decisions and time their movement when crossing roads with traffic. Professor Plumert is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Association for Psychological Science (APS), and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied and the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. She was named a Starch Faculty Fellow in 2015 and received the Regents Award for Faculty Excellence from the University of Iowa in 2016.