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The attributional theory of paranoia suggests that paranoid beliefs may protect individuals from low self-esteem and distress (Bentall et al. 2001). The current study tested this theory by investigating a hypothesis that paranoid beliefs in combination with low perceived deservedness of persecution (poor-me beliefs) confer protection against the distress caused by social but not activity related stress.
Paranoid symptoms, perceived deservedness of persecution, self-esteem, mood, and stress levels of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum disorders (N = 91) and healthy controls (N = 52) were assessed in the context of daily life using the experience sampling method.
Individuals holding poor-me beliefs (poor-me individuals) showed blunted sensitivity to social but not activity stress. In contrast, individuals holding paranoid beliefs in combination with high perceived deservedness of persecution (bad-me individuals) showed heightened sensitivity to social stress. No consistent differences in reactions to activity stress emerged. Although both poor-me and bad-me individuals reported low self-esteem, this disturbance was particularly characteristic of bad-me individuals.
The results suggest that poor-me paranoid beliefs may protect individuals against the distress associated with unpleasant social situations. The specificity of reactions to social stress is discussed in the context of wider literature. Future directions for research are suggested.
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