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An evolutionary perspective on paranoia

Abstract

Paranoia is the most common symptom of psychosis but paranoid concerns occur throughout the general population. Here, we argue for an evolutionary approach to paranoia across the spectrum of severity that accounts for its complex social phenomenology — including the perception of conspiracy and selective identification of perceived persecutors — and considers how it can be understood in light of our evolved social cognition. We argue that the presence of coalitions and coordination between groups in competitive situations could favour psychological mechanisms that detect, anticipate and avoid social threats. Our hypothesis makes testable predictions about the environments in which paranoia should be most common as well as the developmental trajectory of paranoia across the lifespan. We suggest that paranoia should not solely be viewed as a pathological symptom of a mental disorder but also as a part of a normally functioning human psychology.

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Acknowledgements

N.J.R. is funded by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship; V.B. is supported by a Wellcome Trust Seed Award in Science (200589/Z/16/Z). Thanks to P. Boyer, L. Barrett and W. Frankenhuis for helpful comments on an earlier draft. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript

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Correspondence to Nichola J. Raihani.

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Raihani, N.J., Bell, V. An evolutionary perspective on paranoia. Nat Hum Behav 3, 114–121 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-018-0495-0

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