Visualising Crime Project

Using GoPros to Step into the Shoes of an Offender, a Victim or a Bystander

Cluster Technological innovations in criminological research (CRIME Lab) is currently working on the validation of an alternative hypothetical scenario method. Instead of using the common written scenarios we take a visual turn and use filmed criminal scenarios shot from the viewpoint of the perceiver. This way we are able to put the viewer in the shoes of an offender, a victim, or a bystander to examine how (s)he would react in criminogenic situations.

Scenarios are short descriptions of situations in which a choice can be made. A reader is asked to imagine him- or herself to be in the situation and to subsequently answer a number of questions pertaining to it. These questions regard how (s)he perceives the situation and whether (s)he would make a choice if (s)he would be in it. The scenario method is a highly prevalent method in criminology, especially in the context of offender decision making, and is also often used in other social sciences. But, like all research methods, this particular method also has its share of limitations.

For one thing, the scenario method relies on the ability of participants to imagine themselves in a hypothetical situation. As such, it may actually measure participants’ ability to identify with a situation and their imaginative capabilities rather than reflect actual choice preferences. Furthermore, people are likely to differ in how they imagine a specific described situation, which can add more unwanted ‘noise’. The scenario method is also unable to capture a decision maker’s physiological and psychological reactions to the situation. With these limitations in mind, we set out to develop and test an alternative approach using visual scenarios and GoPro point of view (POV) cameras.

We recorded the same criminal event (the theft of a €50 note) from three different perspectives: the offender, the victim and a bystander using POV cameras. Participants in our research see the event (or read about the event) from one of these three perspectives and are subsequently asked how they evaluate the situation and how they would react to it. The aim of the project is to gain a deeper understanding into decision-making processes and how the visual approach compares to the traditional scenario method in terms of reliability and validity. Do people respond differently to the visual compared to the written situation? Does the visual method elicit stronger emotional reactions? Do they experience higher presence and realism? Furthermore, the Visualising Crime Project is also intended to address substantive research questions, such as whether people desire stronger punishment of an offender, and compensation for a victim, when they see a video recording versus a written description of a criminal incident. Or how people’s personality traits relate to offending, guardianship and victimisation.

The Visualising Crime stimulus set developed by NSCR’s CRIME Lab consists of visual and identical written versions of three different criminal events, each from the perspective of either an offender, a victim or a bystander. The stimulus set (in Dutch) is available for use by external researchers. For more information about the project or conditions for use, send an email to:

Credits picture: Shutterstock


mr. dr. Jean-Louis van Gelder

About mr. dr. Jean-Louis van Gelder

Jean-Louis van Gelder has a degree in Work & Organisational psychology (MA) and another one in Law (LL.M) from the University of Amsterdam. These backgrounds were combined into the doctoral dissertation “The Law and Psychology of Land Tenure Security: Evidence from Buenos Aires” which was also completed at the University of Amsterdam. Since March 2009 he has been working as a researcher at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR). In 2012 he finished his second dissertation on the role of affect and cognition in criminal decision making. His other research interests concern the use of innovative methods in crime research, risk perception and –behaviour, legal theory, socio-legal studies and the informal sector. Jean-Louis van Gelder is initiator and coördinator of NSCR’s CRIME Lab.

Jean-Louis is a member of the CRIME Lab & Technology Cluster.

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