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Virtual reality for earthquake fears

1:03pm, August 1, 2006

From Munich, at the Euroscience Open Forum meeting

A team of researchers is developing computer-generated, virtual reality technology to prepare 12-to-16-year-old Greek children, including those with special needs, for a terrifying event they're likely to encounter: an earthquake.

The researchers created a computer model of a local school filled with virtual students. The model triggers sounds, rolling motions, and tumult associated with a major quake. Psychologist Ioannis Tarnanas of the Western Macedonia Research Center in Kozani, Greece, then recruited 50 children with Down syndrome and 90 children without that disorder to don headphones and scene-projecting goggles to experience a quake hitting the virtual school.

By chance, a real earthquake occurred a few months after the children had received the training. The researchers then assessed differences in coping and emotional security between children who had and hadn't been prepared by the virtual real

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