Interpersonal sensitivity, bullying victimization and paranoid ideation among help-seeking adolescents and young adults

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The effects of a negative interpersonal experience, such as bullying victimization in childhood and adolescence, can be strong and long lasting. Bullying victimization is associated with paranoid ideation and suspiciousness. Few studies have focused on personality traits of victims of bullying. The aim of this study is to investigate whether a particular personality trait called interpersonal sensitivity may be related to suspiciousness in those who experienced bullying victimization.


The study sample consisted of 147 help-seeking adolescents (mean age 17 years) selected after a screening phase (Prodromal Questionnaire) and evaluated with the Structured Interview for Psychosis-risk Syndromes (SIPS). All participants were specifically asked if they had experienced either psychological bullying or physical bullying, and they completed the Interpersonal Sensitivity Measure (IPSM).


Of the whole sample, 30 (20%) participants had experienced psychological bullying or physical bullying at least once in their life. Performing a multiple regression, bullying victimization was found to be an independent predictor of subtle paranoid ideation and suspiciousness. Interpersonal sensitivity was also found to be an independent predictor of subtle paranoid ideation; in particular, two IPSM subscales, fragile inner-self and separation anxiety, showed a significant correlation with subtle paranoid ideation.


Our results confirmed that bullying victimization is a negative interpersonal experience associated with paranoid ideation and suspiciousness. However, being overly sensitive and having negative beliefs about the self as fragile and vulnerable to threat also lead to a tendency to attribute experiences as externally caused and, in turn, facilitate the formation and maintenance of paranoid ideation.

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