Schizophrenia and Social Cues: Why Paranoia Exists

A new study may provide insight about why people with schizophrenia suffer from paranoia - and it has to do with how these individuals interpret social cues.

Researchers from King's College London found that persecutory thoughts that are common in schizophrenics may be triggered by how these individuals experience and internalize gestures from other people - findings that may help mental health professionals develop better psychological interventions for this population.

The study included 54 individuals, 29 of whom have schizophrenia. All of the participants viewed the same video clip of an actor who expressed certain gestures, like scratching an eye or putting a finger to the lips to express the command "be quiet."

Meaningful vs. ambiguous gestures

Researchers found that patients with schizophrenia were able to interpret these gestures accurately when the gestures were meaningful - or directed at them. But when the gestures were ambiguous - where it was unclear whether the gestures were directed at them or not - schizophrenia patients were more likely to believe the gestures were directed towards them.

This might explain why people with schizophrenia are likely to be suspicious and paranoid about the actions of others. Moreover, the patients' confidence in their own interpretation of the gestures was strongly linked to their tendency to experience hallucinatory symptoms, the researchers said.

Professor Sukhi Shergill elaborated:

Humans are social beings, often finding joy in interacting with others. While most attention is on talking with each other, non-verbal behaviour such as gestures, body movement and facial expression also play a very important role in conveying the message. However, the message being conveyed is not always clear, or perceived as a positive one, and an extreme example is evident in patients suffering from schizophrenia who show a strong tendency to misinterpret the intentions of other people in a malevolent manner.

The study is published in Psychological Medicine.

Source: King's College London

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