A cognitive model of persecutory delusions is used to predict the occurrence of nonclinical paranoid thoughts in a virtual reality environment. Scorers across the range of paranoia entered a virtual reality scene populated by five computer characters programmed to behave neutrally (N = 30). Many appraisals of the computer characters were positive or neutral. However, there were also persecutory thoughts about the characters. Providing evidence of the validity of the experimental method, persecutory ideation was predicted by higher trait paranoia and a greater sense of presence in the environment. The psychological variables from the cognitive model that predicted persecutory ideation were anxiety, timidity, and hallucinatory predisposition. Further, hallucinatory predisposition distinguished the prediction of paranoid thoughts from social anxiety in virtual reality. It is concluded that nonclinical paranoid thoughts are most closely associated with emotional disturbances and anomalous experiences. Extreme reasoning bias may particularly contribute to the development of clinical phenomena.
*Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, and South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, United Kingdom; †Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, University College London, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, and Camden and Islington Mental Health and Social Care NHS Trust, United Kingdom; ‡Department of Computer Science, University College London, London, United Kingdom; §School Of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice, University of East Anglia, Norwich, and Norfolk Mental Health Care NHS Trust, United Kingdom; ∥Department of Biostatistics and Computing, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, United Kingdom; and ¶Biostatistics Group, Division of Epidemiology and Health Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom.
Supported by a program grant from the Wellcome Trust (no. 062452) and by the UK EPSRC funded Equator Interdisciplinary Research collaboration (www.equator.ac.uk).
Send reprint requests to Daniel Freeman, PhD, Department of Psychology, P. O. Box 77, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, United Kingdom.