Virtual reality aggression prevention treatment in a Dutch prison-based population: a pilot study

Kasja Woicik, Chris N W Geraets, Stéphanie Klein Tuente, Erik Masthoff, Wim Veling

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BACKGROUND: Treating violent behavior in prisons comes with challenges, such as the inability to practice safely with triggering situations and motivational issues. A solution may be the use of Virtual Reality (VR). With VR, specific conditions or needs can be tailored for individual practice, it can enhance motivation and VR has proven to be a safe and effective tool in mental health treatment.

OBJECTIVE: A pilot study was conducted to test the acceptability, feasibility, and preliminary effects of VR Aggression Prevention Treatment (VRAPT) in a prison-based population.

METHODS: In total 17 detainees with aggressive behavior were included in this single-group pilot study. Acceptability and feasibility were assessed using qualitative measures for participants and therapists. Preliminary treatment effects were measured with self-report and observational measures on aggression, anger, emotion regulation, and impulsiveness.

RESULTS: Participants and therapists were predominantly positive about VRAPT. Participants rated the sessions with an average satisfaction score of 9.2 out of 10 (SD = 0.3). Qualitative data showed that participants reported having learned to respond more adequately to aggressive behavior and gained insights into their own and others' triggers and tension. The combination of VR and theory was experienced as a strength of the treatment, as well as the ability to trigger aggression in VR which provided insights into aggression. However, the theoretical framework was found to be too complex, and more aggressive and personal scenarios should be incorporated into the sessions. Self-reported aggression, anger, provocation, emotion regulation, and observed verbal aggression decreased and seemed to stabilize after the treatment ended, with small to medium effect sizes.

CONCLUSION: VRAPT proved feasible and acceptable for most participants and therapists. An adapted treatment protocol called Virtual Reality Treatment for Aggression Control (VR-TrAC), will be used in a future RCT to investigate the effects of the treatment in a prison-based population.

Originele taal-2English
Aantal pagina's14
TijdschriftFrontiers in Psychology
StatusPublished - 14-nov.-2023


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