Experiences of depression and anxiety are common among patients with persecutory delusions. It has been theorized that emotional disturbances affect the formation and appraisal of persecutory delusions directly and possibly via increasing the sense of aberrant salience.
Using a time-lagged analysis of experience sampling data, this study modelled the role of momentary levels of negative emotions and aberrant salience in maintaining persecutory delusions in patients with active delusions.
Clinically acute participants with at least a mild level of persecutory delusions were assessed using experience sampling method (ESM; 7 entries per day for 14 days) and clinical rating scales. ESM data of participants who completed at least 30 ESM entries were analysed by using multilevel regression modelling.
The final sample consisted of 14 participants, with a total of 1161 momentary observations. Time-lagged analysis revealed that both negative emotions (B = 0.125, P = .009) and aberrant salience (B = 0.267, P< .001) predicted an increase in persecutory delusions in the next moment. Conversely, persecutory delusions did not predict change in negative emotions or change in aberrant salience in the next moment (ps> .05). Negative emotions also predicted an increase in aberrant salience in the next moment (B = 0.087, P = .009).
Our results supported the hypothesis that both negative emotions and aberrant salience exacerbate persecutory delusions, rather than being merely the sequelae of the symptoms. Our results suggested both direct and indirect (via aberrant salience) pathways from negative emotions to persecutory delusions.
The authors have not supplied their declaration of competing interest.