“The Royal College of Psychiatrists podcast has a fascinating interview with psychologist Daniel Freeman who discusses his recent study that used virtual reality to study paranoid thinking.Freeman has pioneered the use of VR in studying paranoia to try and understand how individual psychological differences contribute to suspiciousness and fear.

Of course, it’s possible to use real life environments to see how exposure relates to paranoid thinking. In fact, the same research group has studied how patients with paranoid delusions react to urban environments. Those familiar with South East London might be interested to know that stressful urban stimulus in this experiment was a walk down Camberwell High Street (as a resident of Camberwell it is disconcerting, although not entirely surprising, to find out I’m living in an experimental condition used to induce paranoid reactions).

For a scientific point of view, one difficulty with using real-life environments to study paranoia is that they are constantly changing and reactive. This latter point is important because people who are very paranoid might, for instance, behave in a manner that other people find strange and that attracts attention, or in a way that sparks hostility in others. One way of getting round this is to expose all participants to a virtual reality environment programmed to be identical, so any differences in paranoid thinking between individuals are almost certainly related to how they interpret the situation and not how the environment reacts to them.”

(via Mind Hacks)