Using immersive virtual reality to help patients with persecutory delusions successfully re-engage with social situations.

John Grace QC PhD Scholarship 2017:  Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Warneford Hospital, Oxford.

Supervisor: Professor Daniel Freeman


Paranoia is when an individual incorrectly thinks that others are out to harm them. Many people have a few paranoid thoughts, a few have many. The severest form is persecutory delusions, when the belief in the thoughts is very strong and distressing. Severe paranoia leads to individuals finding it very difficult to be around other people and therefore withdrawing from social contact. The purpose of the DPhil is to identify the best psychological techniques to help people go back into social situations. Experimental studies will test the effectiveness of five techniques (enhancing self-confidence; developing a compassionate approach to the self; using positive imagery; switching attentional focus away from threat; dropping the use of countermeasures that maintain threat beliefs) for individuals with paranoid thoughts when they go into identical social situations presented using the latest virtual reality technology. The most effective technique will then be tested in patients with persecutory delusions in the context of schizophrenia. This methodological approach will enable recommendations to be given to patients about how to reengage with social situations.

Research Student: Poppy Brown

Poppy completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Philosophy at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. She is committed to conducting research into mental health. She published a policy paper on student mental health on behalf of the Higher Education Policy Institute in September 2016 and her final year research project investigated self-criticism in Social Anxiety Disorder. She enjoys volunteering for a number of charities including Oxfordshire Mind and Schools Plus.

Start Date: September 2017

Scientific Goal:

The scientific goal is to identify the most helpful psychological strategies for patients with persecutory delusions to be less paranoid and more meaningfully engaged in everyday social situations.