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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.

About the author

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:

Dr Dean’s bio, Twitter, Facebook and how to contact him.

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.



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