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“to make the Arabic subjects angry” at Wright State

If you are a researcher in an American university, and you have decided—for research purposes—to do something you describe as “make the Arabic subjects angry“, then how do you do it without contravening your university’s ethics code? A press release suggests that researchers at Wright State University have faced this question.


“You’re a freshly minted high school grad strolling down the street of your small Ohio hometown, giving a nod to the village barber, your former coach and the girl next door. The next thing you know, you’re a rifle-toting soldier. And the streets you’re walking are those of Afghanistan, where you encounter people who speak Pashtu and Dari, pray five times a day, and where buzkashi is the national sport.”

The scenario described above is from the press-release (dated January 10, 2011). The document summarises attempts to create culture-specific virtual humans for the US Army. Assistant professor Julie Skipper and fellow researcher professor Jennie Gallimore (director of Wright State University’s Center of Excellence in Human-Centered Innovation) have been awarded a grant to give soldiers realistic cultural training by creating virtual humans.

In order to add realism to the virtual 3-D characters, the team intend to :

“…bring in people of Arabic background as well as subject-matter experts. Expressions reacting to scenarios will be recorded in a laboratory setting.”

The idea being to record true emotional responses, which can subsequently be incorporated into the avatars.

“For example, efforts will be made to make the Arabic subjects angry so they drop their guard. They will be monitored to see when they make and break eye contact, and how much personal space they give people with whom they interact. And the meaning of their gestures will be scrutinized since gestures can mean totally different and sometimes opposite things in different cultures.”

But how does ‘making the Arabic subjects angry’ (in a laboratory setting) square with Wright State’s ‘Ethics Statement’? It states:

Respect : Members of the university community will show concern for the individuality of others and their ideas.”

In order to find out, Improbable has sequentially e-mailed both professors – and Wright State’s Assistant Director of Public Relations – but as yet has received no reply or acknowledgement from anyone at WSU.

Note: For those unfamiliar with Buzkashi it’s described in detail here.

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