Developing conflict resolution skills using Virtual Reality

Contact: Elisa Cavorta


Department: Political Economy, School of Politics and Economics

Institution: King’s College London

Project timeline: January/February 2024 to April 2024

Project duration: Ideally full time, or at least 3 days a
week for 13 weeks.

Closing date: December 1st

Expertise required: This internship is suitable for a student who

i. knows Python,

ii. has followed courses in inferential statistics and data analysis/econometrics at least at the level of Wooldridge ‘Introductory Econometrics: A Modern Approach’ and/or knowledge of statistical learning at least at the level of ‘An Introduction to Statistical Learning’ by Gareth James, Daniela Witten, Trevor Hastie, and Robert Tibshirani

iii. is keen to learn more in the field of VR and data science

Project description: This project implements an innovative and scalable educational intervention aimed at fostering conflict resolution skills in adolescents through Immersive Virtual Reality (VR). Perspective taking skills are the ability to take someone else’s perspective when thinking. It is a cognitive skill necessary for conflict resolution.

The project is an interdisciplinary and practically oriented research supported by UNICEF. The project has developed a VR educational experience that has been implemented in schools in London and Cairo and its impact is currently evaluated using a Randomized Control Trial methodology. The project includes a work package on measurement innovation: New measures of perspective-taking skills have been designed to overcome the limitations of existing assessments. The measurement of conflict-resolution skills is also being innovated through the analysis of conversations during conflict situations using Natural Language Processing algorithms. These developments will be integrated into the project’s second phase, offering the candidate an opportunity for participating with both academic and creative input. There are four parallel working areas to which the student can take part depending on their interests:

a. Data Analysis: This involves the application of causal inference methods and machine learning techniques for text analysis on previously collected data.

b. Publications: Students will participate in the writing of publications, the creation of dissemination materials, and presentations to donors and prospective donors.

c. Creative and Conceptual Development: Engage in the creative and conceptual design of new VR experiences that expand the current intervention, and contribute to the development of research funding proposals for phase 2.

d. Implementation and Data Collection: Participate in the implementation of the VR intervention and the collection of primary data in schools in London.

Description of work involved: a. Data Analysis – the RA will work collaboratively on the data analysis, applying regressions, inferential statistics and simple machine learning classification models on the data previously collected (input on more complex models is welcomed). The data include both quantitative and qualitative data (text data). The targets are: prepare code for the data analysis, interpret the results and work on data visualization for publication output.

b. Publications – Crafting and Communicating Research Findings: the RA will actively be contributing to the writing of a research paper and related materials for disseminating the research findings. The RA will be an integral to the publication process. The target is: supporting the production of a journal article and presentation of findings to donors and partners.

c. Creative and Conceptual Development: The RA will be able to engage in the creative and conceptual design of a number of planned VR experiences that expand the current intervention. This segment of the project will contribute to the development of research funding proposals for phase 2. The targets are: writing or reviewing storyline scripts to become animated Virtual Reality scenarios, input on research design and testing scenarios prototypes in VR.

d. Implementation and Data Collection – Hands-On Project Execution: The RA responsibilities include participating in the implementation of the programme in schools in London and the collection of primary data related to the impact evaluation. The target is to successfully lead sessions with participants.

Student benefits: i. Enhanced knowledge and exposure to a field of research – Virtual Reality/tech-education – that is expanding and exposure to innovative methodologies – experiments, interactive Virtual tasks, analysis of text as data.

ii. Hands-On Learning of data analysis, VR technology, software development pipeline and collaborative work in data science. The internship will strengthen the candidate’s ability to generate and conduct causal evidence analysis and draw insights from complex datasets and diverse data structures.

iii. Interdisciplinary Exposure to work with academics and professionals from diverse backgrounds including software engineers, VR developers and psychologists.

iv. Enhanced understanding of the process of publication and refereeing process for leading interdisciplinary outlets, like Science or PNAS, and dissemination of research findings. The RA will have the opportunity to experience first-hand dissemination activities since a UNICEF workshop and some beneficiary and stakeholders’ meetings will take place during the internship period.

v. Enhancement of research funding proposal skills applicable for research councils, third sector and company funders like Meta. Proposal writing is an essential skill for securing support for future research initiatives and this internship offers insights into the different processes required by various funding sources.

vi. Contributing to a project that fosters conflict resolution skills in adolescents through innovative technology is both meaningful and impactful.