Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Lavoie

Advisor Role



This study compared empathy among police officers undergoing mental health crisis de-escalation training in virtual reality and live action training modalities. The study included police officers across different police services in Ontario (N=63) and evaluated the efficacy of the Mental Health Crisis Response Training (MHCRT, Lavoie et al., 2020) program delivered across virtual reality and live action modalities against a control group that did not receive the training program. After collection of participants’ demographics, empathy scores, and de-escalation competency scores, a series of correlations, ANOVAs and ANCOVAs were conducted. Results showed that participants receiving MHCRT virtual reality and live action formats demonstrated no significantly different effects on empathy based on modality, with both formats displaying an increase in empathy over time. General empathy was found to be related to having multiple de-escalation strategies in the participants’ repertoire, while state empathy towards the specific character in crisis was not significantly related to specific de-escalation strategies. This relationship between general empathy and de-escalation competencies provides evidence for the importance of empathy among police officers, specifically with regard to hiring practices and specialization in mental health crisis response teams. The evaluation of the MHCRT program in both live action and virtual reality training modalities contributes to the limited research on the outcome of scenario-based police training programs and its efficacy in enhancing empathy and de-escalation competencies among police officers. This scenario-based MHCRT program is the first of its kind and opens the door to the possibility of cross-province scalability and standardization for police de-escalation training, with an emphasis on a relational policing approach to serving community members in mental health crisis.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season