Training citizens to reduce burglary risk using Virtual Reality (VR)

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In England and Wales alone, nearly 700,000 incidents of burglary or attempted burglary were recorded last year. With the financial costs only increasing, and the severe extent of the emotional costs for victims, it is clear that additional burglary-prevention research is necessary.
This thesis sets out to establish a novel method of crime prevention: Training householders to better understand burglary risk using Virtual Reality. Chapter 1 introduces this topic, and emphasises the current gaps in householders’ burglary risk knowledge (relative to expert burglars). Chapters 2 and 3 help provide further empirical evidence for the need of a novel training method by assessing householders’ level of burglary risk knowledge through their placement of valuable items around a virtual house (chapter 2), and their assessment of a virtual neighbourhood for environmental burglary risk cues (chapter 3). In chapter 2, it was found that householder item placements largely conformed to known burglar expectations about where specific items are located (e.g. placing jewellery in the bedroom). In chapter 3, householders were only able identify a small number of salient visual burglary cues, and overestimated the deterrence of an alarm whilst failing to identify the vulnerability of corner houses or rear access. Both of these studies demonstrate householders limited understanding of burglary risk.
Chapters 3 and 4 outline the novel VR training method, and assess its effectiveness in increasing householder risk knowledge (chapter 3) without significantly increasing fear (chapter 4). Householders were randomly assigned to one of three training methods. Two groups were asked to enter a virtual neighbourhood of houses and were guided by an experimenter to assess burglary risk in a scripted training sequence. To further assess benefits of immersion, one group of participants were trained whilst wearing a VR headset, whilst another group were trained on a computer. These groups were compared to a control group who were trained using a webpage of crime prevention information. It was found that those who received the VR training performed significantly better on a subsequent mock burglary task, being more likely to enter through the rear of an end of terrace property, and being more likely to target smaller high value items. They also demonstrated no increase in fear (from pre-post-test measures) and a significant increase in perceived control.
Overall, this thesis outlines the benefit of using VR to increase householder knowledge of burglary risk. This thesis contributes to the general discussion on how VR can be used as a training tool in scientific fields, expanding this discussion to the field of burglary research. This in turn also contributes to the ongoing establishment of VR as a beneficial tool in criminogenic research.
Date of Award26 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorClaire Nee (Supervisor), Zarah Vernham (Supervisor) & Jean- Louis Van Gelder (Supervisor)

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