Paranoid Delusions as an Adaptive Response to Social Evaluative Stress?

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Abstract

Learning mechanisms may serve as a framework for understanding the formation of paranoia. Specifically, if paranoid thoughts after social stressors produce a short-term benefit for coping (e.g., downregulating arousal), the encountered negative reinforcement could lead to their excessive application and subsequently to long-term maladaptive convictions. The Trier Social Stress Test was utilized in healthy participants to examine this putative benefit. Participants rated paranoia at baseline and after the stressor. Subjective stress levels, negative affect, heart rate, and heart rate variability were assessed in the following rest phase (N = 59). Semipartial correlations showed that participants who responded with larger increases in paranoia were characterized by a lower heart rate in the subsequent rest phase. No associations were found with heart rate variability or psychological measures. Thus, paranoid thinking in healthy individuals could be an adaptive means for reestablishing some aspects of physiological homeostasis after a social stressor but further research is needed.

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