Virtual Reality | Maastricht University

VR in psychological research

Working at the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience (FPN) at Maastricht University, Richard is responsible for designing and developing Virtual Reality paradigmas to be used in psychological research and has also co-authored several scientific publications.

In collaboration with researchers a study design is created after which Richard will convert this design into a working Virtual Reality simulation to be used in one of Maastricht University’s VR-labs. This process includes developing the simulation in Unity 3D using C# and creating all specialized 3D assets such as models, materials and animations.

Custom 3D Models are being created in Blender 3D and commonly textured using Substance Painter/Designer. Photogrammetery is applied whenever possible. When specific animation is required this can either be hand-animated or recorded using a motion capture setup.

In many cases the VR simulation has to be connected to, and synchronise with, peripherals or physiological measurement equipment (EEG, ECG, MRI, skin conductance, etc…).

Approach avoidance & fear of spiders

In several Virtual Reality studies participants were exposed to negative stimuli, such as spiders or unpleasant noises and/or images. The subsequent behaviour, such as avoiding the triggers for these negative stimuli were measured.

In several of these experiments the context was a virtual Escape Room in which the participant has to actively search for clues.

Related publication: Can you escape the virtual room? A novel paradigm to assess avoidance behaviour (Pauline Dibbets, Anke Lemmens, Richard Benning, Tom Smeets)


In the trauma-related experiments participants are witness to a traumatic scenario such as a heavy traffic accident, crime or even the aftermath of a planecrash.


Differences in memory performance have been measured by placing participants in a virtual survival context and switching them back to a common context (livingroom).

False memories have been researched by manipulating the placement of paintings in a virtual gallery.

Related publication: Physical exploration of a virtual reality environment: Effects on spatiotemporal associative recognition of episodic memory (van Helvoort, D., Stobbe, E., Benning, R., Otgaar, H. & van de Ven, V.)

Eating behaviour

During the eating behaviour related experiments participant’s behaviour regarding food choices is monitored. Different manipulations are used to try and influence the participant’s choices.

Forensic psychology

Different scenarios have been created in which the participant is witness to a (criminal) situation after which they have to recall specific details.

Body language & aggression

Several studies have been conducted in which a participant is confronted with aggressive avatars, from the viewpoint of a witness or even from the viewpoint of the victim or aggressor.

In another set of studies participants are presented with avatars displaying different ranges of emotions (angry, fearful, happy, etc…) while physiological measurements were taken.


A “negotiation simulator” has been created in which a researcher can create his or her own branching dialogue with multiple choice answers, custom variables (for example: track how annoyed or angry the virtual avatar becomes and use these values to influence later choices) and the option to negotiate any numeric value (for example: salary, sick days, color of the company car, etc…). The dialogues are stored in .xml format and can be edited in a custom editor.

The simulation has been used to measure cultural differences in salary negotiations.