Personality and burglary: a virtual reality study

Iris van Sintemaartensdijk, Jan-Willem van Prooijen, Claire Nee, Marco Otte, Paul van Lange

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Personality traits are robust predictors of the likelihood of involvement in criminal behaviour, but how such traits predict behaviour while committing a crime is unclear. This study investigates associations between HEXACO personality traits and burglars' scouting process, as well as how burglars differ in this respect from non-offenders due to their unique burglary expertise. In a virtual reality experiment, 181 incarcerated burglars and 172 non-offenders (university students) were asked to scout two virtual neighbourhoods for potential targets. For burglars, two main findings were observed: (1) lower honesty-humility was associated with increased perceived neighbourhood deterrence and the perceived likelihood of residents intervening, and (2) higher honesty-humility and self-control, but lower conscientiousness were all associated with taking less time scouting and travelling less distance in the virtual neighbourhood as well as target selection (e.g., selecting corner houses). For non-offenders, only extraversion emerged as a trait associated with increased efficiency in scouting the neighbourhood. We conclude that honesty-humility, conscientiousness, and self-control are primarily associated with the burglar scouting process, and suggest that burglary expertise is key to explaining why these effects were only observed for burglars rather than non-offenders.
Original languageEnglish
Article number111712
Number of pages11
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Early online date9 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2022


  • virtual reality
  • personality
  • burglary
  • expertise


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