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Crime The Almighty Buck

Scientists Study Crime In Progress In a VR Simulated Environment 80

HughPickens.com writes: Claire Nee writes in the NYT that for psychologists, it's best to observe actual behavior, in real time, and afterward interview research participants. Yet for obvious ethical and safety reasons, it's almost never possible to observe a crime as it happens. Now psychologists have devised a simulated environment that can be navigated using a mouse or a game controller. and had willing, experienced ex-burglars to commit a mock burglary in it. Ex-burglars approached the task in a dramatically different way from a comparison group of postgraduate students, of a similar age as our experienced ex-burglars. Burglars entered and exited the house at the rear, while students, unaware of the cover that the side and rear of the house afforded, entered at the exposed front. Burglars spent significantly more time in areas of the house with high-value items and navigated it much more systematically than the students did. They also showed greater discernment, by stealing fewer but more valuable items. Most important, all participants burgled the real and the simulated houses almost identically (PDF). We concluded that using simulations can be a robust way to study crime, and in studying it this way, we will not be limited to just burglary. "A better understanding of criminal behavior will help us reduce opportunities for crime in our neighborhoods," concludes Nee. "By knowing what the burglar is looking for — what signals wealth, occupancy, ease of access and security in properties — we can make adjustments in awareness and protection."
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Scientists Study Crime In Progress In a VR Simulated Environment

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  • by Snotnose ( 212196 ) on Sunday May 31, 2015 @11:32AM (#49809549)
    Any idiot knows to go in the back/side, and smaller items are easier to carry than larger items of equal value.
    • by Livius ( 318358 ) on Sunday May 31, 2015 @11:36AM (#49809569)

      These were postgraduate students -- they were special idiots.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I doubt their motivations were the same as someone who had actually had the drive to steal in reality previously. Without having to be in the actual situation they never visualized the necessity of cover or the true value of the items they were stealing. A real burglar had already done these things before, so in the simulation all he had to do was emulate his previous actions from memory. It's a dumb study.

    • Any idiot knows to go in the back/side,

      If the internets have taught me anything...

    • I could take these pieces of jewellery, but screw that, this guy's got a sick 50" TV!
  • Short version (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Livius ( 318358 ) on Sunday May 31, 2015 @11:35AM (#49809563)

    Professionals do something better than amateurs.

    • Better? What's the metric? Eg, if there is no chance of getting caught in the simulation, why not go in the front door and carry out everything that's not nailed down?

    • I remember a Paul Harvey segment where he said the cops knew if a thief was a professional because all the drawers of a dresser would be open and empty...indicating they went from bottom to top to save time (they didn't have to close drawers to get to the open ones) and quickly pulled the clothes to get the heavy smaller stuff at the bottom.

    • by rioki ( 1328185 )

      I wonder if seasoned "Pay Day" players would rate better?

  • by witherstaff ( 713820 ) on Sunday May 31, 2015 @11:47AM (#49809631) Homepage
    If I learn how to be a thief from a MOOC do I still have to pay my thieves guild annual fee?
    • If by that you mean "prison", yes.

    • That depends on which shard you're playing on. If you're playing on the North American shard, you've got very high annual fees to pay, and they go to figures in government. If you're playing on e.g. the South American shard, for the most part yes, they still have somewhat traditional thieves' guilds, and they are highly regional.

  • "A better understanding of criminal behavior will help us reduce opportunities for crime in our neighborhoods,"

    And as soon as one form of crime is understood and deterrents introduced, won't the (successful) criminals simply move their attentions to another neighbourhood, modus operandi or equally illegal field of endeavour?

    This initiative doesn't seem to address the basic issue of the number of criminals or their need to indulge in criminal (as opposed to legal) ways of making money.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday May 31, 2015 @12:08PM (#49809735)

      And as soon as one form of crime is understood and deterrents introduced, won't the (successful) criminals simply move their attentions to another neighbourhood, modus operandi or equally illegal field of endeavour?

      No. Most crime is based on opportunity. More opportunities means more crime. Fewer opportunities means less crime.

      This initiative doesn't seem to address the basic issue of the number of criminals

      There is not a fixed number of criminals, nor a fixed amount of crime. If crime doesn't pay, potential criminals will do something else, and as crime in an area falls, businesses invest and other job opportunities tend to open up.

      • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Sunday May 31, 2015 @12:34PM (#49809843)

        Exactly crime is a business. as long as someone is willing to do the work and make a profit at it they will do so.

        Prisons are part of what makes crime expensive. Another thing is flooding the market with low value goods that simulate high value goods.

        Look at car radios. since manufacturer's started putting high quality audio and navigation systems into cars, car radio theft has dropped off considerably. It isn't worth it to steal the radio.

        Tv's aren't big ticket items anymore. neither are dvd players. Computers are a mixed bag but even they are so cheap now a days. jewels always will be. Though if you want to protect your diamonds the best way is to put staged storage areas filled with fakes. the crooks will steal the fakes.

        Crime falls when the standard of living comes up, and inequality is lessened. As inequality is increased so does crime.

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          Though if you want to protect your diamonds the best way is to put staged storage areas filled with fakes. the crooks will steal the fakes.

          No, they will steal them all.

  • Not a discovery (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Oligonicella ( 659917 ) on Sunday May 31, 2015 @12:05PM (#49809709)

    Burglars have been telling us this for decades. Nothing new has been learned simply by using a video game scenario. In this the psychologists are half a century behind law enforcement. But it probably makes for a good grant write up.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, something new was learned. The goal of the experiement was to test whether virtual environments are a valid tool for observation of burglary techniques such that their use should be continued. They weren't looking for new insight into *actual* burglary techniques -- that comes later.

      This is all called out explicitly in the paper -- the approx 10 page paper which took about 10 minutes to read.

      Yes, it would make for a good grant write up because this paper suggests continued development of the virtu

      • As I mentioned elsewhere, viewing security footage would be more relevant as it removes the knowledge that it's a virtual environ - and there's already an extensive collection of it.
        Why would new insights come later as they already can and do interview professional burglars now who explain *actual* techniques?
      • by rioki ( 1328185 )

        This paper is something like the fifth time I read a study aimed at analyzing the validity of virtual training or simulations for real wold stand ins. And not wonder there, if the parameters of the simulation where properly designed, training goal was well defined and the game sufficiently realistic, it was a cost effective training and evaluation tool.

        I understand that, for scientific accuracy, a method must be evaluated, but except for pilot, cargo ship and emergency response training, I have not seen muc

    • Re:Not a discovery (Score:5, Interesting)

      by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Sunday May 31, 2015 @12:36PM (#49809849) Homepage Journal

      Burglars have been telling us this for decades. Nothing new has been learned simply by using a video game scenario. In this the psychologists are half a century behind law enforcement. But it probably makes for a good grant write up.

      Similarly, there was no point in Galileo and Newton studying the way stuff falls because everyone has been watching stuff fall forever.

      You don't seem to get science. Finding a way to systematically study a subject in a controlled environment is the first step to dramatically increasing knowledge in that subject, at a pace that non-systematic, anecdotal experience -- however broad and deep -- cannot touch. In the case of the psychology of crime this has been problematic for the reasons mentioned in the study. The discovery here is that simulation may offer mechanisms that enable previously impossible areas of study, not the lessons about how burglars search homes. It's no surprise that the findings of the initial tests didn't contradict law enforcement experience... in fact if they had contradicted that experience it would have been a bad thing, since odds are that the new methodology would have been at fault, not the old experience.

      If they can manage to establish a solid research methodology, though, and outline clearly its strengths and weaknesses, then they can start using it to systematically explore the subject. Odds are that many initial findings will merely corroborate anecdotal evidence. That's fine, and contrary to common non-scientific wisdom, it does not mean that such confirmatory studies are a waste of time and money. It's worth effort to establish that what you believe to be true really is (or, more precisely, to increase your confidence that it really is; absolute "truth" isn't reachable). But it's also a near certainty that, given a good experimental methodology, researchers will quickly be able to learn things that traditional wisdom does not know.

      But none of that can happen if the subject can't be effectively studied and, particularly in psychology, it's often the case that the real breakthrough is in devising a way to test and measure. After that, the rest is just grunt work.

      Will this method really enable significantly better research into the psychology of crime? I don't know. But it seems promising, and noteworthy.

      • The thieves are secretly training their replacements.

        The "Study" is a sham and the 'researchers' are hitting Vegas after the study concludes.

      • at a pace that non-systematic, anecdotal experience

        Running someone through a vr simulation is no faster as the recording needs to be analyzed and is *still* anecdotal vs watching them actually perform a crime without their knowing they are being watched. Just because it's machine recorded doesn't alter that. In fact, studying home and business security camera footage would be of greater value.

        Psychologists were amongst the law enforcement people interviewing burglars previously, making it just as valid as

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Completely missing the point. You can't tamper with real buildings and see what makes them better or worse for theft. No one would take the risk they'd make things easier on a thief, the liability is too real. They can't test things in a simulation without first proving that the simulation reflects real-world behavior.

          This experiment shows that it can distinguish between a professional burglar's actions and an amateur's. The VR modelling at its baseline is a suitable representation of a real actual burglary

        • I'd reply in detail, but the AC covered it well. You missed the point of creating an environment for controlled experimentation.
  • Studying crime in VR.... wasn't that something they were doing in the exposition of that film?
  • by koan ( 80826 )

    Another no duh moment, psychology is a bit of a pseudo science.

  • A sign that reads, "This homeowner donates lots of money to charity."
    Would the criminals think "Oh, well, they're nice people so I won't rob them," or would they think, "Hey, where's my shorty, Morty? You gave money to everybody else, why not me too? You obviously have more than you need."
    Or would they simply think, "Eff you. I need to fence your crap so I can fuel my drug habits."

  • Scientists Study Crime In Progress In a VR Simulated Environment

    So reality has finally caught up with CSI Miami?

  • Exoerienced people will do better than people with no experience. Hence using the front or the back. also theywill have knowledge what the value of items is compared to the sale value, compared to the buying value.

    Sure, I now what I payed for my 27" 4K screen, but I have no idea how much I could sell it for. And I would have no idea for any other items.

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