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Paranoia and trust - examining the role of automatic, implicit processes in mistrust and paranoid thinking


Department of Psychology

About the Project

Abstract: Paranoid delusions are the most common symptom of psychosis but less severe forms of paranoid ideation and mistrust are common in everyday life and lie on a continuum with the rarer clinical forms (Elahi, Perez Algorta, Varese, McIntyre, & Bentall, 2017). Previous research has shown that attachment-threatening early life experiences (Bentall, Wickham, Shevlin, & Varese, 2012), insecure attachment styles (Wickham, Sitko, & Bentall, 2015), low self-esteem and impaired theory of mind (Bentall et al., 2009) all contribute to the risk of experiencing paranoia. Although conventional CBT strategies for addressing paranoid beliefs suggest that they are sometimes amenable to rational disputation, in clinical practice patients often report feeling paranoid despite knowing that their beliefs are ill-founded. The idea that implicit, affect-laden processes drive paranoid thinking is consistent with the observation that ordinary people make rapid, automatic judgments of trust when encountering unfamiliar faces (Todorov, Mende-Siedlecki, & Dotsch, 2013). This research will use experimental measures to examine the role of automatic, implicit processes in mistrust and paranoid thinking, how these processes relate to early attachment experiences, and how they interact with other paranoia-related process, particularly self-esteem and theory of mind. Initial studies will be on healthy participants stratified according to paranoid traits but later studies may be with patients suffering from paranoid delusions. Depending on the second supervisor, it may be possible to include ERP methods and/or to carry out pilot studies of evaluative condition methods designed to manipulate implicit judgments (see (Baccus, Baldwin, & Packer, 2004)).

References: Baccus, J. R., Baldwin, M. W., & Packer, D. J. (2004). Increasing implicit self-esteem through classical conditioning. Psychological Science, 15, 498-502. doi:10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00708.x Bentall, R. P., Rowse, G., Shryane, N., Kinderman, P., Howard, R., Blackwood, N., . . . Corcoran, R. (2009). The cognitive and affective structure of paranoid delusions: A transdiagnostic investigation of patients with schizophrenia spectrum disorders and depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 66, 236-247. Bentall, R. P., Wickham, S., Shevlin, M., & Varese, F. (2012). Do specific early life adversities lead to specific symptoms of psychosis? A study from the 2007 The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 38, 734-740. Elahi, A., Perez Algorta, G., Varese, F., McIntyre, J. C., & Bentall, R. P. (2017). Do paranoid delusions exist on a continuum with subclinical paranoia? A multi-method taxometric study Schizophrenia Research. doi:10.1016/j.schres.2017.03.022 Todorov, A., Mende-Siedlecki, P., & Dotsch, R. (2013). Social judgments from faces. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 23, 373-380. Wickham, S., Sitko, K., & Bentall, R. P. (2015). Insecure attachment is associated with paranoia but not hallucinations in psychotic patients: The mediating role of negative self esteem. Psychological Medicine, 45, 1495-1507. doi:10.1017/S0033291714002633

Funding Notes

Self funded or sponsored students only

NB The University has some scholarships under competition - application deadline is 29 January 2020 at 5pm. More details can be found - View Website

Start dates are October and March yearly

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