Thursday, 29 April 2010

Erasing David

"David Bond lives in one of the most intrusive surveillance states in the world. He decides to find out how much private companies and the government know about him by putting himself under surveillance and attempting to disappear - a decision that changes his life forever. Leaving his pregnant wife and young child behind, he is tracked across the database state by two ruthless private investigators, on a chilling journey that forces him to contemplate the meaning of privacy - and the loss of it."

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.

In this latest VR study, the environment was programmed to be neutral (a simulation of the London Underground carriage) but about a third of participants from the general population reported paranoid thoughts.

Some of the paranoid thoughts reported in the paper are really quite striking:
"There was an aggressive person – his intention was to intimidate me and make me feel uneasy"
"One guy looked pissed off and maybe one guy flicked the finger at me".
I've actually been in the simulation, having taken part in a pilot study for a related project, and although it's a bit clunky (as you can see from the picture) it's remarkable how its difficult not to have human reactions to the 'people' on the train.

Interestingly, the study found that anxiety, worry and the tendency to have anomalous perceptual experiences were associated with paranoid thoughts, as was 'cognitive inflexibility' - the tendency to be unable to see alternative explanations for ideas or beliefs.

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