January 1, 2020
Wellstein, K. and Diaconescu, A.O. and Bischof, M. and Rüesch, A. and Paolini, G. and Aponte, E.A. and Ullrich, J. and Stephan, K.E.


It has been suspected that abnormalities in social inference (e.g., learning others’ intentions) play a key role in the formation of persecutory delusions (PD). In this study, we examined the association between subclinical PD and social inference, testing the prediction that proneness to PD is related to altered social inference and beliefs about others’ intentions. We included 151 participants scoring on opposite ends of Freeman’s Paranoia Checklist (PCL). The participants performed a probabilistic advice-taking task with a dynamically changing social context (volatility) under one of two experimental frames. These frames differentially emphasised possible reasons behind unhelpful advice: (i) the adviser’s possible intentions (dispositional frame) or (ii) the rules of the game (situational frame). Our design was thus 2 × 2 factorial (high vs. low delusional tendencies, dispositional vs. situational frame). We found significant group-by-frame interactions, indicating that in the situational frame high PCL scorers took advice less into account than low scorers. Additionally, high PCL scorers believed more frequently that incorrect advice was delivered intentionally and that such misleading behaviour was directed towards them personally. Overall, our results suggest that social inference in individuals with subclinical PD tendencies is shaped by negative prior beliefs about the intentions of others and is thus less sensitive to the attributional framing of adviser-related information. These findings may help future attempts of identifying individuals at risk for developing psychosis and understanding persecutory delusions in psychosis.

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