In a study in the journal Psychiatry Research,
scientists showed that making a person's virtual
height lower than it actually is can make them feel
worse about themselves and more fearful that others
are trying to harm them.
The research shows how low self-esteem can lead to
paranoid thinking, the scientists said, and will be
used to develop more effective psychological
treatments for severe paranoia, a serious mental
"Being tall is associated with greater career and
relationship success. Height is taken to convey
authority and we feel taller when we feel more
powerful," said Daniel Freeman of Britain's
University of Oxford, who led the study.
He explained that in this experiment, when people's
height was virtually reduced, they felt inferior and
this caused them to feel overly mistrustful.
"This all happened in a virtual reality (VR)
simulation but we know that people behave in VR as
they do in real life," Freeman added.
Freeman's team tested 60 adult women from the
general population who were prone to having
"mistrustful thoughts" and put them through a VR
experience of an underground train ride.
The participants experienced the same "journey"
twice, once at their normal height and once at a
height that had been virtually reduced by around 25
centimeters. In both parts of the experiment, the
other virtual passengers were programmed to be
neutral and cause fear.
While most participants did not consciously register
the height difference, more of them reported
negative feelings — such as feeling incompetent,
unlikable and inferior — when they were in the
lower height phase of the experiment.
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These negative thoughts translated into an increase
in paranoia toward the other passengers, the
researchers said, including making the participants
more likely to think someone in the carriage was
staring at them, had bad intentions towards them or
was trying to upset them.
"It provides a key insight into paranoia, showing
that people's excessive mistrust of others directly
builds upon their own negative feelings about
themselves," said Freeman.
"The important treatment implication... is that if
we help people to feel more self-confident then they
will be less mistrustful."
(Reporting by Kate
Kelland; editing by Gareth Jones)
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