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35 Using an immersive virtual environment to study parent-child safety conversations in vivo
  1. Elizabeth E O’Neal,
  2. Shiwen Zhao,
  3. Jodie M Plumert
  1. US University of Iowa


Statement of Purpose Although recent work has begun to examine parent-child safety conversations as a means of preventing unintentional childhood injuries, no past work has examined what these conversations look like while families are engaged in a risky activity. The current study examined these conversations in vivo when children crossed roads with parents in an immersive virtual environment.

Method Seventy-two 6–8-, 10-, and 12-year-old children crossed a single lane of traffic with a parent in an immersive pedestrian simulator 20 times. A comparison group of same-age children crossed alone (n=64). Traffic approached at 25 MPH from the left-hand side with randomly ordered gaps ranging from 2–5 s with half-second intervals.

Results Children crossing with a parent were more discriminating than children crossing alone, choosing fewer small gaps and more large gaps. Increased odds of gap acceptance with each 0.5 s gap size increase was 34.83 for solo children compared to 13.94 for children in dyads (Figure 1). Children in dyads also had more time to spare upon exit than children crossing alone, F(1, 135)=4.30, p=0.04. Parents of 6-year-olds talked more about the crossing than parents of older children. Conversations centred on asking or telling children when it was safe to cross, referencing the size of gaps in traffic, and providing feedback on completed crossings. For children of all ages, parents recruited non-verbal communication (e.g., holding out a hand to prevent crossing) on more than half of all trials (M=0.57) to influence safety.

Conclusions We found that parents influence the safety of road crossing in terms of gap choices and safety margins.

Significance Parents are teaching children to safely navigate the road-crossing environment via verbal and non-verbal communication. These findings will lead to future unintentional injury prevention work capitalising on those who are best positioned to teach children ‘“ their parents.

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