The Virtual Reality Scenario Method: Moving from Imagination to Immersion in Criminal Decision-making Research

Jean Louis van Gelder* (Corresponding Author), Reinout E. de Vries, Andrew Demetriou, Iris van Sintemaartensdijk, Tara Donker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
278 Downloads (Pure)


Objectives: This study proposes an alternative hypothetical scenario method capitalizing on the potential of virtual reality (VR). Rather than asking participants to imagine themselves in a specific situation, VR perceptually immerses them in it. We hypothesized that experiencing a scenario in VR would increase feelings of being “present” in the situation, and add to perceived realism compared to the written equivalent. This, in turn, was expected to trigger stronger emotional experiences influencing subsequent behavioral intentions. Methods: In an experiment, participants (N = 153), visitors of a large music festival, either read a “bar fight” scenario or experienced the scenario in VR. Following the scenario, they were presented a series of questions including intention to aggress, perceived risk, anticipated shame/guilt, presence, perceived realism, and anger. Analyses were conducted using analysis of variance, stepwise regression, and mediation analysis using nonparametric bootstrapping. Results: In line with expectations, the results indicate significant differences between conditions with the VR scenario triggering stronger presence, higher realism, and higher intention to aggress. Importantly, presence and anger mediated the relation between condition and intention to aggress. Conclusions: We show that the VR scenario method may provide benefits over written scenarios for the study of criminal decision-making. Implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)451-480
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of research in crime and delinquency
Issue number3
Early online date7 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


  • anger
  • emotions
  • scenarios
  • virtual reality
  • 360° video


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