“Describe the evidence supporting the cognitive model of persecutory paranoia.”
Now for the final essay in this series. This essay felt a little easier than the others. Partly because, by this point, my technique had improved. My reading and note-taking were ruthlessly prioritised. Instead of drowning in notes, I had simple spider diagrams. But there was more to it than that.
Reading for this essay was, genuinely, a humbling experience. Learning about the experiences of people suffering from severe persecutory paranoia certainly gave me some perspective on my usual feelings of essay-anxiety. Rather than letting it take over, I was able to remind myself that the fears I had (not finishing on time, or producing something terrible) were not only unrealistic (I feel like that every time, and things tend to turn out ok), but also just not that bad. If those things actually happened, my relatively comfortable and happy life would go on.
I’ve not yet had a mark back for this essay, but my sense of perspective persists. Regardless of how it turns out, I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn more about this topic. So this essay, at least, feels worth sharing.
(If you fancy jumping straight into the real thing, just keep scrolling…)
- Persecutory paranoia exists as a spectrum across the general population. Persecutory paranoia is the incorrect idea that others intend to harm us. Many of us experience this from time to time. Perhaps we imagine our colleagues are being deliberately irritating, or that people on public transport are trying to p*ss us off. At the more extreme end of the spectrum, some individuals hold strong beliefs that someone intends to cause them serious harm, or even to kill them. As you can imagine, this can be extremely debilitating.
- To help those suffering with these beliefs, it’s important to understand how they begin, and how they’re maintained. Cognitive models have been described in an attempt to do this. A key model is the threat anticipation model of persecutory delusions.
- The model suggests that persecutory beliefs develop in an attempt to explain strange, or ‘anomalous’, events. Certain emotional processes, such as those involved in anxiety, and reasoning biases, such as the tendency to jump to conclusions, can make the chosen explanation more likely to be of a threatening nature, and strengthen the level of belief in this explanation.
- The essay discusses the specific emotional processes and reasoning biases that seem to be involved in the formation and maintenance of persecutory paranoia, and reviews the evidence for them having causal roles.
- Some exciting new research is helping to pinpoint the specific factors that cause the formation and maintenance of extreme persecutory paranoia, in order to develop more targeted treatments.
- Overall, the message is clear: more research is needed to continue this progress, and bring relief to many.
If you’re interested in paranoia and anxiety, you might be interested in these:
Philip K Dick, one of the world’s greatest science fiction writers, suffered from persecutory paranoia. This short clip (36:45 – 38:33) from the documentary ‘A Day in The Afterlife’ shows Philip and two friends describe a particular episode he had, giving a little bit of insight into what this experience might be like.
- If you’re interested in learning more about anxiety, Professor Daniel Freeman (who is referenced a lot in this essay) and his son, Jason Freeman, have written two great books on anxiety, ‘How to Keep Calm and Carry On: Inspiring Ways to Worry Less and Live a Happier Life‘ or ‘Anxiety: A Very Short Introduction‘. They’ve also written a book specific to paranoia, ‘Overcoming Paranoid and Suspicious Thoughts‘.
Read on for the full essay…Read More »