40% Experienced Paranoid Thoughts on Virtual Journey

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A new virtual reality study finds that 40% of the general population experienced paranoid thoughts during a tube ride. Dr Daniel Freeman at the Institute of Psychiatry in London and colleagues explain that while paranoid thoughts are popularly associated with mental illness, they are actually a normal part of everyday life for many of us.

In the study, which took place a year after the London tube bombings, 200 participants navigated a virtual reality simulation of a 4 minute journey on the London Underground. Avatars within the simulation were designed to react neutrally to participants moving through the simulation. Despite this, more than a third reported paranoid reactions like the following:

  • ‘There was an aggressive person – his intention was to intimidate me and make me feel uneasy’
  • ‘One guy looked pissed off and maybe one guy flicked the finger at me’
  • ‘There was a man who tried to stare me out. But I didn’t give him any ammunition. Believe his intention was to start an argument’

Compare these to how other people experienced the simulation:

  • ‘People were generally very friendly’
  • ‘One guy was checking me out – flattering’
  • ‘There were people smiling at you, which was nice’

This just underlines how people can experience exactly the same environment in completely different ways.

There’s a very good video on the Wellcome website with Dr Daniel Freeman explaining more about the study, how it was conducted and showing clips of the virtual reality environment.

About the author

Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog and HealthiestBlog.com. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 20 May 2008

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