Virtual reality-assisted cognitive-behavioural therapy (VR-CBT) has potential to support people who experience paranoid ideation in social settings. However, virtual reality (VR) research using overt social environments is limited, and lack of qualitative studies on paranoid ideation in VR restricts understanding. This study aimed to use predominantly qualitative methods to investigate subjective experience of paranoia in VR and identify target domains for VR-CBT. Participants (N = 36) were non-clinical adults with high trait paranoia, who entered an interactive VR bar-room environment. After VR, they participated in brief audiotaped semi-structured interviews designed for measuring persecutory ideation in virtual environments. Researchers scored transcripts on the Comprehensive Assessment of At-Risk Mental States Non-Bizarre Ideas Global Rating Scale to rate the state paranoia represented by interview content. Thematic analysis of interviews employed superordinate themes of Social Evaluative Concerns, Ideas of Reference, and Ideas of Persecution to investigate participants' experience of paranoia. Mean score on the Non-Bizarre Ideas scale was 3.06 (standard deviation 1.24, range 1-6), indicating "moderate" attenuated-paranoid experiences. Nearly all participants reported Social Evaluative Concerns (N = 35) and Ideas of Reference (N = 32); half reported Ideas of Persecution (N = 19). Twelve subthemes were identified. Notably, participants believed they did not belong in the environment (N = 31), that they were the object of discussion (N = 20), and that they felt avatars were unfriendly (N = 27) and intentionally rejected them (N = 13). Subthemes reflect interpersonal and social processes that may constitute target areas for VR-CBT, for example, cognitive appraisals and social skills. Identification of these domains indicates how personalized VR-CBT may be operationalized.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-345
Number of pages9
JournalClinical psychology & psychotherapy
Issue number3
Early online date29 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • paranoia
  • paranoid ideation
  • psychosis
  • qualitative research
  • social performance
  • virtual reality


Dive into the research topics of 'Subjective experience of paranoid ideation in a virtual reality social environment: A mixed methods cross-sectional study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this