Assessing reactive violence using Immersive Virtual Reality

PLoS One. 2022 May 6;17(5):e0268191. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0268191. eCollection 2022.


Assessing levels of aggression-specifically reactive violence-has been a challenge in the past, since individuals might be reluctant to self-report aggressive tendencies. Furthermore, experimental studies often lack ecological validity. Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) offers a reliable, ethically safe environment, and is the most realistic virtual simulation method currently available. It allows researchers to test participants' aggressive responses to realistic provocations from virtual humans. In the current study, 116 participants completed our IVR aggression task, in which they encountered avatars who would either approach them in a friendly or provocative fashion. Participants had the option either to shake hands or hit the virtual human, in congruent and incongruent trials. In congruent trials, the response required of the participant matched the approach with the avatar (e.g., hitting the avatar after provocation). In incongruent trials there was a mismatch between the avatars approach and the participants required response. Congruent trials were designed to measure the immediate reaction towards the virtual human, and incongruent trials to assess response inhibition. Additionally, participants also completed traditional questionnaire-based measures of aggression, as well as reporting their past violent behaviour. We found that the immediate aggressive responses in the IVR task correlated with the established questionnaire measures (convergent validity), and we found that the IVR task was a stronger predictor of past violent behaviour than traditional measures (discriminant validity). This suggests that IVR might be an effective way to assess aggressive behaviour in a more indirect, but realistic manner, than current questionnaire assessment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Violence
  • Virtual Reality*

Grant support