Studies of Paranoia Using Virtual Reality

17th November, 2011, 12.00-13.00

Malet Place Engineering Building 1.02

Daniel Freeman

MRC Senior Clinical Fellow and Professor of Clinical Psychology

Oxford Cognitive Approaches to Psychosis

Department of Psychiatry

University of Oxford, UK.

Paranoia denotes the unfounded fear that others intend to cause you harm (e.g. ‘Others are deliberately trying to upset me’ ‘People are spreading malicious gossip to distress me’ ‘People are out to get me’). There is a spectrum of severity in the general population, with many people having a few paranoid thoughts and a few people having many. The difficulty researching paranoia is determining when the thoughts are unfounded rather than realistic. With Mel Slater and Angus Antley, the speaker and colleagues have developed virtual reality to provide the first experimental test of unfounded paranoid thoughts. When virtual reality avatars are programmed to be neutral then it is known that any thoughts of hostility are inaccurate. The method has now been used in several studies with patients with psychosis and non-clinical members of the general population. It has led to advances in understanding the prevalence of paranoia and, importantly, the factors that raise the risk of the occurrence of such thoughts, leading to innovations in treatment. In this talk the results of the research collaboration to date will be described, as well as the current on-going work.

Daniel Freeman is Professor of Clinical Psychology, a Medical Research Council (MRC) Senior Clinical Fellow, a British Psychological Society Fellow, and a consultant clinical psychologist. He moved to Oxford University in 2011. Professor Freeman has described the new science of suspiciousness in Paranoia: The 21st Century Fear, and cognitive techniques to reduce the problem in Overcoming Paranoid and Suspicious Thoughts. He has also written more widely on the treatment of psychological and emotional problems in Know Your Mind: The Complete Family Reference Guide to Emotional Health. An accessible guide to key topics in psychology is provided by Use Your Head: A Guided Tour of the Human Mind. Professor Freeman has supervised over 20 doctoral level students, and is a member of the Psychosis Research Partnership (PRP).