Social stress and susceptibility to psychosis

People who are sensitive to psychosis react with more stress and suspicion to their environment. This is shown by a study in which we had 170 test subjects walking around in different virtual reality environments. Stress and paranoia increased when it was busier in a virtual café or when virtual people looked unfriendly. This effect was stronger in people with a higher risk of psychosis.

By using virtual environments, we were able to investigate which stimuli in the environment cause stress in which people. The stress response to social stimuli in the environment was greater in people who experienced unpleasant things in their childhood, such as abuse or sexual abuse. Stress and suspicion mainly occurred when there were a lot of social stimuli in the environment, in combination with trauma in childhood and a higher psychosis sensitivity.

The VR café environment

Fifty-five people who had recently had a psychosis, 20 people with mild psychotic experiences, 42 brothers and sisters of patients with psychosis and 53 healthy subjects participated in the study. Everyone walked for five times four minutes through a virtual café, each time with a different amount of social stimuli. The number of virtual café visitors and the percentage with a different ethnic appearance varied, as did the extent to which they looked at the subjects unfriendly. After each experiment, subjects were asked about their tension and suspicious thoughts about the virtual café visitors.

Read more:

Environmental Social Stress, Paranoia and Psychosis Liability: A Virtual Reality Study.
Wim Veling, Roos Pot-Kolder, Jacqueline Counotte, Jim van Os, Mark van der Gaag.
Schizophrenia Bulletin 2016; 42:1363-1371.

Childhood trauma, psychosis liability and social stress reactivity: a virtual reality study.
Wim Veling, Jacqueline Counotte, Roos Pot-Kolder, Jim van Os, Mark van der Gaag.
Psychological Medicine 2016; 46:3339-3348.