Longitudinal studies support the safety and ethics of virtual reality suicide as a research method

Xieyining Huang*, Kensie M. Funsch, Esther C. Park, Paul Conway, Joseph C. Franklin, Jessica D. Ribeiro

*Corresponding author for this work

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Many have expressed concerns about the safety and ethics of conducting suicide research, especially intense suicide research methods that expose participants to graphic depictions of suicidality. We conducted two studies to evaluate the effects of one such method called virtual reality (VR) suicide. Study 1 tested the effects of VR suicide exposure over the course of one month in participants with (n = 56) and without a history of suicidality (n = 50). Study 2 exposed some participants to VR suicide scenarios (n = 79) and others to control scenarios (n = 80). Participants were invited to complete a follow-up assessment after an average of 2 years. For both studies, the presence of suicidality post exposure was the primary outcome, with closely related constructs (e.g., capability for suicide, agitation) as secondary outcomes. Study 1 found no pre-post increases in suicidality or related variables, but revealed several significant decreases associated with small to medium effect sizes in suicide-related constructs. In Study 2, VR suicide exposure did not cause any significant increases in suicidality or related variables. Together with prior research, these findings suggest that methods involving intense suicide stimuli appear safe and consistent with utilitarian ethics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number9653
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2021


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