Virtual Reality Experiments Linking Social Environment and Psychosis: A Pilot Study

Wim Veling*, Willem-Paul Brinkman, Emily Dorrestijn, Mark van der Gaag

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Initial studies with healthy subjects and individuals with high risk for psychosis have suggested that virtual reality (VR) environments may be used to investigate social and psychological mechanisms of psychosis. One small study reported that VR can safely be used in individuals with current persecutory delusions. The present pilot study investigated the feasibility and potential negative side effects of exposure to different virtual social risk environments in patients with first episode psychosis and in healthy controls. Seventeen patients with first episode psychosis (FEP) and 24 healthy control subjects (HC) participated in four virtual experiments during which they walked for 3.5-4 minutes in a virtual cafe, looking for avatars with digits on their clothing. The level of paranoid thoughts, as well as psychological, physiological, and behavioral correlates of paranoid thoughts, were measured in different virtual social risk environments, manipulating two factors: population density and ethnicity of avatars. FEP and HC frequently had paranoid thoughts about avatars. Paranoia in the real world correlated strongly with paranoid thoughts about avatars in virtual environments (Spearman's =0.67 and 0.54 in FEP and HC respectively, p
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-195
JournalCyberpsychology Behavior and Social Networking
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2014

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