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Virtual Kids - Virtual characters to improve the quality of child interrogations

At a glance

  • Project leader : Prof. Susanna Niehaus
  • Deputy of project leader : Prof. Mark Cieliebak
  • Project team : Dr. Don Tuggener
  • Project budget : CHF 798'580
  • Project status : completed
  • Funding partner : SNSF (SNF-Projektförderung / Projekt Nr. 189236)
  • Contact person : Mark Cieliebak


If children are questioned in preliminary proceedings about their own experiences or observations relevant to criminal law, it depends decisively on the quality of the questioning whether their statements can be used in criminal proceedings or whether decisions can be made on this basis and appropriate consequences can follow. After all, the child's statements are usually the sole evidence in such proceedings. The demands on the quality of surveys and on the qualification of interviewees are correspondingly high, but interviewees lack training and practice opportunities, because role-playing with colleagues is hardly lifelike, and children cannot be used as actors in training on these topics for ethical reasons. As a result, children are often confronted with inexperienced interviewers in practice. At present, this systematically discriminates against children who are particularly dependent on interview competence due to their socialization conditions, psychological characteristics or cognitive impairments. This is aggravated by the fact that these groups of people are also affected by violence much more frequently. The aim of this interdisciplinary research project (social work/forensic psychology/computer science/design) is to develop a software that can be used to train optimal interviewing behavior in particularly difficult situations (e.g. cognitive impairment, autism spectrum disorder) realistically and individually. The software development is based on digital adventure games. With this software, not only the short and medium-term training success can be controlled, but the standardized communication situation also makes it possible to systematically investigate which personal prerequisites promise success under which training conditions, and how it can be explained that some respondents retain suggestive interviewing behavior despite intensive training measures, while others benefit from training measures. Finally, it will be examined whether persons trained with child avatars not only show virtual learning progress, but whether their interviewing behavior is also more convincing in real interview situations.Scientific and social contextThe project closes significant gaps in knowledge regarding the effectiveness of individual training elements and personal influencing variables. The findings and the training tool can be used for education and training as well as for personnel selection. On the basis of these findings, the survey practice can be improved and thus the international demand for child-friendly justice can be met.