Computational Modelling Group

Testing an interaction game on relationships.

27th June 2014
10th October 2014
Research Team
Anastasia Eleftheriou
Seth Bullock

Questionnaire Screenshot

The aim of this project is to examine how attractiveness is related to hypothetical risky sexual behaviour. The term `risky sexual behaviour' refers to having multiple sexual partners without the use of a condom. Data will be collected using questionnaires in order to investigate the influence of attractiveness on intentions towards engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse. A primary research question is whether perceived attractiveness of a potential partner affects the reported likelihood of having sex and/or using a condom.

Participants will interact with simulation models which we will develop as part of this project, which will demonstrate the impact of different levels of risky sexual behaviour in the population. People will be able to see what the effects of their anticipated hypothetical level of risk taking are in this simulated world. This kind of simulation model falls into the “serious games" category which the main purpose is educational. A second research question is whether people's anticipated risky behaviour is affected by exposure to the serious game.

A serious game (sometimes e-learning or game-based learning) is a game developed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment. Although the words “serious" and “game" sound contradictive, the first refers to its educational purpose and not to its content. This kind of game is used by industries like defence, education, scientific exploration, engineering, health care, management, city planning and politics. Serious games, in contrast with just computer games, do not only have story, graphics and a clever software, but they introduce the concept of pedagogy through entertainment; they are training and teaching vehicles . Some examples include:

  • America's Army. A video game released by the United States Army in order to give people a virtual soldier experience and help with recruiting.

  • The Business Game was released by PIXELearning to provide young people with business training.

The reason we have chosen to develop a serious game as part of this project is because it offers an enormous potential for young people's sexual education, as this generation is very familiar with computer and video game playing. Our model will give young people the potential to engage with this simulated world of people and their sexual interactions and they will better understand how easy it is for diseases to spread.

The procedure is as follows:

Firstly, the participants fill in the questionnaire (which is in a desktop application format programmed in Java). The answers are saved on the University of Southampton laptop used for the questionnaire. After that the participants interact with a game (simulation made in Java) which shows how sexually transmitted infections can spread in a population, using the same laptop. After a few trials of using the simulation, the participant completes a further set of questions (to enable before-after comparison) and they are invited to write a few comments on the screen about their experience. Study participation lasts approximately 15 to 25 minutes total.

The brief screening questionnaire includes questions related to demographics (age, education, occupation, sexual orientation). Participants are asked to rate the facial attractiveness of 5 women by looking at facial photographs. They are asked how likely they think it is that each woman has a sexually transmitted infection, how likely it is that they would have sex with her without a condom and the percentage of men that they think would report that they would have sex with her without a condom.

After this, participants interact with the simulation, which involves watching simulated interactions between `people' (actually different coloured dots on the screen with colours representing STI status and gender), observe how quickly their own 'self' acquires an STI (set according to their reported anticipated level of risk), complete some of the questionnaire items again and then leave some written feedback on the screen. Observation by me is also used to complement the data gathered through sessions as it provides contextual data allowing clarification of ambiguous statements. Observation of the participant by the researcher also allows the opportunity to record data that might otherwise be missed.

For the participants' recruiting poster advertisements at the University of Southampton, posters on community advertisements boards and Facebook were used.

Supervisors: Seth Bullock, Cynthia Graham, Roger Ingham.


Life sciences simulation: Psychology

Physical Systems and Engineering simulation: Sexual Health

Software Engineering Tools: Eclipse

Programming languages and libraries: Java

Transdisciplinary tags: Complex Systems, Computer Science, Software Engineering