Virtual Environments as Laboratories for Studying Human Behavior


The Hank Virtual Environments Lab focuses on using virtual environments to study human perception and action. There are two main foci of this research program. One is understanding how children and adults negotiate traffic-filled intersections in our virtual environment. The other is understanding how people perceive and adapt to virtual environments. The overarching goal of this multidisciplinary project is to advance the fields of behavioral science and computer science through our study of human behavior in real and virtual environments.

Bicycling Simulator Research

Video by David Gamradt (10-23-2012). Making smarter, safer bicyclists: Simulator used to study children's decision-making process when riding. Iowa Now Online, The University of Iowa.

Bicycling injuries represent a significant public health problem in the United States. Five- to 15-year-old children represent a particularly vulnerable segment of the population, having the highest rate of injury per million cycling trips. Motor vehicles are involved in approximately one-third of all bicycle-related brain injuries and in 90% of all fatalities resulting from bicycle crashes. Many of these collisions between bicycles and motor vehicles occur at intersections. A critical first step in developing programs to prevent these car-bicycle collisions is understanding more about why such collisions occur. Our work uses virtual environment technology to examine the factors that may put children at risk for car-bicycle collisions when crossing intersections. To read more about this research, click here.








Perception & Adaptation Research

Virtual environments have gained widespread use in recent years as a tool for studying human behavior. Problems ranging from how children make road-crossing decisions to how adults respond to social situations have been studied using various kinds of immersive virtual environments. Virtual environments have also been used as a tool for training new skills, particularly in cases where training in the real environment can be risky or dangerous. Given the growing use of virtual environments for research and training purposes, we are interested in understanding more about how people perceive and adapt to virtual environments. Broadly speaking, our work focuses on how experience in real and virtual environments affects how people perceive distance. To read more about this research, click here.