Biking in the City Is Enough to Give Anyone Paranoia

Riding your bike to work will put you in better shape and help protect the environment. Apparently, it’ll also make you a little paranoid.

That’s according to a new paper titled State Paranoia and Urban Cycling from researchers in London. The idea for the study came from something psychologists already know about paranoia: that there seems to be link between paranoia and stress. In particular, being exposed to stressful situations can increase levels of paranoia, at least temporarily.

And if there’s anything that’s stressful, the researchers pointed out, it’s biking in the city. They described urban cycling as “a naturalistic environment high in interpersonal threat.”

The researchers then recruited a sample of 323 people from the general population, all of who were regular cyclists in London, and looked at how cycling affected people’s levels of paranoia. In this context, the researchers defined paranoia as the “explicit perception that other road users intend the agent harm.”

As it turned out, riding a bike in the city reliably induced a state of paranoia in these cyclists. Seventy percent of them reported experiencing paranoia while riding their bikes. This state of paranoia was transient, and it was equally likely to occur for people who had high and low levels of paranoia in other aspects of their lives.

The study also compared cycling with another kind of urban transportation: taking the London Underground, which the researchers described as a “lower threat environment.” People taking the Underground had lower levels of paranoia than people riding bikes, and people who experienced paranoia while taking the Underground tended to be those who experienced paranoia in other aspects of life as well.

Overall, these results confirm the idea that stressful everyday situations can transiently raise levels of paranoia. They also flesh out our picture of the average urban bicyclist: fit, environmentally friendly, and temporarily a bit paranoid.

Image: Flickr/Sascha Kohlmann