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The proportion of the population who experience persecutory thoughts is 10-15%. People then engage in safety-seeking behaviours, typically avoiding social interactions, which prevents disconfirmatory experiences and hence paranoia persists. Here we show that persecutory thoughts can be reduced if prior to engaging in social interaction in VR participants first see their virtual body-double doing so. Thirty non-clinical participants were recruited to take part in a study, where they were embodied in a virtual body that closely resembled themselves, and asked to interact with members of a crowd. In the Random condition (n = 15) they observed their body-double wandering around but not engaging with the crowd. In the Targeted condition the body-double correctly interacted with members of the crowd. The Green Paranoid Thoughts Scale was measured 1 week before and 1 week after the exposure and decreased only for those in the Targeted condition. The results suggest that the observation of the body-double correctly carrying out a social interaction task in VR may lead to anxiety-reducing mental rehearsal for interaction thus overcoming safety behaviours. The results also extend knowledge of the effects of vicarious agency, suggesting that identification with the actions of body-double can influence subsequent psychological state.

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Journal article


Sci Rep

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