The effect of paranoia on the judging of harmful events.

D Freeman, N Evans, E Černis, R Lister, G Dunn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective. Social psychological research has indicated that intentional harm may be perceived as causing greater damage than unintentional harm. It has been proposed that this harm magnification is a consequence of a need to blame, condemn and punish (“blame motivation”). The objective of the current study was to replicate these findings and to test whether such judgements about harmful events are associated with the level of an individual's paranoia.

Method. Three hundred adults read a scenario in which a head of a company causes a reduction in employees' pay. Participants were randomly allocated to versions in which the outcome of the executive's action was intended or unintended. Ratings were made of intent, harm caused and blame motivation. Participants also completed assessments of paranoia and anxiety.

Results. Intentional harm was judged as causing worse outcomes than unintentional harm, explaining a small amount of variance in harm scores. Paranoia moderated judgements of intent and blame motivation but not the degree of harm caused; high paranoia, relative to low paranoia, was associated with the unintentional scenario generating higher attributions of intent and blame and the intentional scenario generating lower attributions of intent and blame. Anxiety levels did not affect judgements.

Conclusions. The study supports the theory that there is a reasoning bias that magnifies the consequences of intentional harm relative to unintentional harm. In the initial judgement about intent, people with paranoia are less accurate in their use of contextual information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-127
JournalCognitive Neuropsychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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