Hypersensitivity to Contingent Behavior in Paranoia: A New Virtual Reality Paradigm

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Contingency in interpersonal relationships is associated with the development of secure attachment and trust, whereas paranoia arises from the overattribution of negative intentions. We used a new virtual reality paradigm to experimentally investigate the impact of contingent behavior on trust along the paranoia continuum. Sixty-one healthy participants were randomly allocated to have a social interaction with a pleasant virtual human (avatar) programmed to be highly responsive or not (high/low contingency). Perceived trustworthiness and trusting behavior were assessed alongside control variables attachment and anxiety. Higher paranoia and dismissive attachment were associated with larger interpersonal distances. Unexpectedly, extremely paranoid individuals experienced the highly contingent avatar as more trustworthy than their low contingency counterpart. Higher dismissive attachment was also associated with more subjective trust in both conditions. Extreme paranoia is associated with hypersensitivity to noncontingent behavior, which might explain experiences of mistrust when others are not highly responsive in everyday social situations.

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