11:38pm Friday 20 October 2017

Virtually lowering a person’s height ‘heightens’ feelings of mistrust

Previous studies have indicated that height is a marker of social status, and a study published online today in Psychiatry Research has demonstrated that making a person’s height lower than it actually is can make them feel worse about themselves and more fearful that others are trying to harm them. The experiment provides a demonstration of how low self-esteem can lead to the occurrence of paranoid thinking and will inform further studies looking to increase levels of confidence and reduce excessive mistrust. The findings will be used to develop more effective psychological treatment for severe paranoia, a key mental health problem.

The study, led by Professor Daniel Freeman at the University of Oxford, tested 60 adult women from the general population who were prone to having ‘mistrustful thoughts’. The participants experienced an underground tube ride virtual reality simulation. They experienced the same ‘journey’ twice, with the only difference being a reduction in height of about a head (25cm). In both instances, the other virtual passengers were programmed to be ‘neutral’, and not a cause of fear in the participants.  

 

While most people did not consciously register the height difference, there was an increase in the number of people who reported negative feelings, such as being incompetent, unlikeable, and inferior, in the lower height phase of the experiment. These negative thoughts translated into an increase in paranoia towards the other passengers. The participants were more likely to think that someone in the carriage was staring in order to upset them, had bad intentions towards them, or were trying to make them distressed.

 

Professor Daniel Freeman, an MRC Senior Clinical Fellow at the University of Oxford, said:

 

“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. It is little wonder then that men and women tend to over-report their height. In this study we reduced people’s height, which led to a striking consequence: people felt inferior and this caused them to feel overly mistrustful. This all happened in a virtual reality simulation but we know that people behave in VR as they do in real life.  

 

“It provides a key insight into paranoia, showing that people’s excessive mistrust of others directly builds upon their own negative feelings about themselves. The important treatment implication for severe paranoia that we can take from this study is that if we help people to feel more self-confident then they will be less mistrustful. This prediction is exactly what we are testing in the next phase of our work, a new randomised controlled clinical trial.” 

 

“At any one time, one in six people in the UK are affected by mental illness. Funding research that help improves understanding of what causes disrupted thought patterns is important if we’re to develop interventions that work further down the road. For people whose lives are affected by paranoid thinking, this study provides useful insights on the role of height and how this can influence a person’s sense of mistrust.”

 

Ends

 

To request a copy of the paper or to arrange an interview with the lead researcher, please contact the MRC Press Office on 0207 395 2276 or email press.office@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

 

 

 

A video of the simulation is available here (Also embargoed until 0001 GMT Wednesday 29 January)  http://youtu.be/DoUfiDaGX6k

 

 

 

The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Twenty-nine MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. www.mrc.ac.uk

 

 

 

Oxford University’s Medical Sciences Division is one of the largest biomedical research centres in Europe, with over 2,500 people involved in research and more than 2,800 students. The University is rated the best in the world for medicine, and it is home to the UK’s top-ranked medical school.

 

From the genetic and molecular basis of disease to the latest advances in neuroscience, Oxford is at the forefront of medical research. It has one of the largest clinical trial portfolios in the UK and great expertise in taking discoveries from the lab into the clinic. Partnerships with the local NHS Trusts enable patients to benefit from close links between medical research and healthcare delivery.

 

 

 

A great strength of Oxford medicine is its long-standing network of clinical research units in Asia and Africa, enabling world-leading research on the most pressing global health challenges such as malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS and flu. Oxford is also renowned for its large-scale studies which examine the role of factors such as smoking, alcohol and diet on cancer, heart disease and other conditions.

 


Share on:
or:

MORE FROM Mental Health and Behavior

Health news