CAD.20.021 – What’s Up? Virtual Reality screening to inform treatment for juvenile offenders

Route: Child and adolescent development, upbringing and education

Cluster question: 058 What are the patterns and causes of crime and how can we influence them?

Yearly, over 25.000 juveniles (12-23) in the Netherlands are found guilty of committing crimes of various severity. Part of this group is referred for outpatient or residential treatment, ultimately aimed at reducing the risk of recidivism. This treatment should to be adjusted to the individual risk level, needs and responsivity (i.e. learning abilities, motivation) of a specific juvenile in order to be effective. Screening and diagnostics based on interviews, psychological instruments and case file analyses, including risk assessment, are generally used to determine risk level, needs and ability of clients. Yet, what remains underexposed in traditional screening and diagnostics, is how the juvenile actually feels, thinks and reacts when exposed to situations that may evoke antisocial behavior, rather than what the individual indicates to feel and do in an interview or self-report questionnaire.

To bridge this gap, we recently developed and piloted a virtual reality assessment (funded by an NWA Idea Generator grant), aimed at assessing various risk factors of delinquency, i.e. reactive and proactive aggression and precursors, cognitive distortions, self-control and cognitive flexibility. Because of its high ecological validity, virtual reality has the potential to evoke actual feelings, thoughts and behavior. By adding physiological measurements to the assessment, physiological reactions to specific situations are obtained, in addition to observable reactions and the youth’s reflections on the behavior. Adding physiological measurements enables the identification of biological factors underlying antisocial behavior, which may further guide diagnostics and treatment. The positive experiences in our feasibility study ask for further research and development in this area on a larger scale to optimize the screening of juvenile offenders. This will contribute to improving treatment allocation, to ultimately reduce their risk to re-engage in criminal behavior.


Juvenile offenders, recidivism, responsivity, virtual reality

Other organisations

RijksJustieleJeugdinrichtingen (RJJI), Utrecht University (UU)


Organisation University of Amsterdam (UvA), Forensic youth care sciences
Name Dr. H.E. (Hanneke) Creemers