Computer-generated images are used (Picture: Shutterstock)
Suspected paedophiles at a maximum security mental health facility are shown virtual reality images of child abuse and pornography.
The controversial practice is used to determine the individual’s arousal when viewing the material, and researchers claim it can predict whether they are threats to the public.
People admitted to the Institut Philippe-Pinel hospital in Montreal, Canada, sit with devices placed on their penises to measure arousal, and wear glasses that simulate virtual reality.
Patients – rapists, paedophiles and sexual deviants – are shown computer-generated images of naked children, and an eye-tracking device means they cannot look away.
Patrice Renaud, who leads the project, told The Guardian: ‘We do develop pornography, but these images and animations are not used for the pleasure of the patient but to assess them.’
The project determines the patient’s sexual preference, which is then used by a court to rule whether they pose a risk to the public or not.
Mr Renaud said: ‘You can have someone who molested a child once but is not a paedophile as such – they may have been intoxicated or have another mental health disorder.
‘If we find that the guy is attracted to children and doesn’t feel empathy for the fact that the child is in pain, that’s good information for predicting behaviour.’
The experiment takes place and the material created must be encrypted and stored in a secure computer network – minimising the chance it could spread outside the hospital.
It is also under intense scrutiny from ethical committees and the police.