Page last updated at 23:44 GMT, Monday, 31 March 2008 00:44 UK

Virtual tube ride 'paranoia hope'


How the virtual Tube ride works

A virtual reality ride on the London Underground may help treat paranoia, experts believe.

King's College London has developed a programme simulating a journey where a person interacts with other travellers.

A third of the 200 people studied had paranoid thoughts, with those anxious and worried most likely to do so, the British Journal of Psychiatry said.

Experts believe the programme could be used to assess and treat people in combination with counselling.

Lead researcher Dr Daniel Freeman said: "Paranoid thoughts are often triggered by ambiguous events such as people looking in one's direction or hearing laughter in a room.

"But it is very difficult to recreate such social interactions.

There was a guy spooking me out - tried to get away from him
Study participant

"Virtual reality allows us to do just that, to look at how different people interpret exactly the same social situation.

"It is a uniquely powerful method to detect those liable to misinterpret other people."

Currently psychologists trying to understand paranoia have relied on questionnaires, which can be inaccurate.

But in this Wellcome Trust funded-study, where participants wore headsets, the team were able to recreate real-life situations.

During the four-minute ride the volunteers walked around a carriage filled with "virtual" passengers who behaved like real people.


The "avatars" - computer-generated characters - breathed, looked around, and sometimes met the gaze of the participants.

A pre-assessment showed that those who were anxious, worried, pessimistic, or had low self-esteem, were most likely to feel paranoid.

Researchers also said the number of people demonstrating paranoid feelings was higher than expected.

One participant who experienced paranoid thoughts told the scientists: "There's something dodgy about one guy. Like he was about to do something - assault someone, plant a bomb, say something not nice to me, be aggressive."

Image from virtual tube ride
The programme could be used for treatment

Another said: "There was a guy spooking me out - tried to get away from him."

A woman said: "Felt trapped between two men in the doorway. As a woman I'm a lot more suspicious of men. Didn't like the close proximity of the men. The guy opposite may have had sexual intent, manipulation or whatever."

Professor Peter Kinderman, a Liverpool University psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society, said: "This is a valuable and useful tool.

"It helps us to understand more about paranoia and I can see it could have a role to play in assessment and therapy."

Paranoia 'a widespread problem'
03 Jul 06 |  Health

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