Adolescent risk-taking and decision-making: A qualitative investigation of a virtual reality experience of gangs and violence

Delfina Bilello, Lucy J. Swancott, Juliane A. Kloess, Stephanie Burnett Heyes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Introduction: Gang involvement poses serious risks to young people, including antisocial and criminal behaviour, sexual and criminal exploitation, and mental health problems. There is a need for research-informed development of preventive interventions. To this end, we conducted a qualitative study of young people’s responses to an educational virtual reality (VR) experience of an encounter with a gang, to understand young people’s decisions, emotions and consequences. 

Methods: Young people (N = 24 aged 13-15, 11 female, 13 male) underwent the VR experience followed by semi-structured focus group discussions. Questions focused on virtual decision-making (motivations, thoughts, feelings, consequences) and user experiences of taking part. Data were analysed using Thematic Analysis. 

Results: Three themes were developed to represent how participants’ perceptions of the gang, themselves, and the context influenced virtual decisions. Social pressure from the gang competed with participants’ wish to stand by their morals and establish individual identity. The VR setting, through its escalating events and plausible characters, created an “illusion of reality” and sense of authentic decisions and emotions, yielding insights for real-life in a safe, virtual environment. 

Discussion: Findings shed light on processes influencing adolescent decision-making in a virtual context of risk-taking, peer pressure and contact with a gang. Particularly, they highlight the potential for using VR in interventions with young people, given its engaging and realistic nature.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1142241
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Virtual Reality
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • immersive virtual reality
  • theatre-in-education
  • tech-in-education
  • criminal exploitation
  • county lines


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