Shorter individuals had higher levels of paranoia when their height was reduced, according to a new virtual reality study. A simulator demonstrated that offering two distinct experiences showed that shorter people had very different experiences than taller people.
Professor Daniel Freeman at the University of Oxford performed a virtual reality study. He set out to discover what factors led people to feel paranoid. Details of the study were published in the journal Psychiatric Research. His idea was to test the reaction people had when they were tall, versus when they were short. He found that shorter people experienced feelings of paranoia when their height was reduced. They lost their sense of confidence and their self-doubt was transferred to doubt in the people surrounding them.
He enlisted 60 women as subjects in the study. Each woman took two virtual train rides, taking on the form of a neutral avatar. The first train ride was unaltered. They had a simulated train ride and interacted normally with others on the train. On the second trip, however, he reduced their height by a head (equal to 25 centimeters.) Without informing the participants of this change, most of the women didn’t notice a height difference. They did have different experiences on each of the rides, however.
Freeman monitored their reactions to both train rides. Though they didn’t experience any strong feelings on the first trip, the second ride elicited negative feelings. They felt disliked, less valuable and inferior. They didn’t trust the people around them and felt like they were at risk for being harmed. They felt like others on the train were staring at them as well, which made them uncomfortable. What otherwise might have been taken as casual glances were viewed as looks of judgment and disapproval.
The study shows that mistrust of other people stems from one’s own negative feelings, creating a state of paranoia. It isn’t a logical reaction, as it comes from feelings of negative self-worth rather than an external source. Spurred on by fear and anxiety, it changes the way people socialize, as well as their social standing.
“Paranoia is rooted in a sense of inferiority. In situations that make us feel especially small and unconfident our sense of vulnerability can increase, making it more likely that we’ll overestimate the danger facing us from other people,” Freeman explained.
Shorter people generally feel vulnerable and lack confidence. Taller people are deemed more confident, powerful and authoritative. By that logic, taller people would seem to have better success in their work life and their relationships.
All participants in the study were tested and were free from mental illness. Paranoia related to a height disadvantage is common, but it does not have to be debilitating. Extreme cases of paranoia require medical treatment though, as it can be associated with schizophrenia.
Freeman’s work on the virtual reality study can help shed light on treating the paranoia that short people may experience. Since the participants became more paranoid when their height was reduced, the key may be to work on improving self-esteem.
By Tracy Rose