Differences in social status and politics encourage paranoid thinking

July 31, 2018

Differences in social status and political belief increase paranoid interpretations of other people's actions, finds a new UCL experimental study.

Paranoia is the tendency to assume other people are trying to harm you when their actual motivations are unclear, and this tendency is increased when interacting with someone of a higher social status or opposing political beliefs, according to the study published today in Royal Society Open Science.

"Being alert to social danger is key to our survival, but our results suggest social difference alone encourages us to think that the other person wants to harm us," said the study's senior author, Professor Nichola Raihani (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences).

"Intense paranoia is also a symptom of mental ill health, and is more common among people who perceive themselves to have low social rank. We believe our findings could shed light on why paranoia is more common in those who are struggling on the social ladder and excluded by society," she added.

For the study, 2,030 people participated in an online experiment where they were paired with another person and given a sum of money. Ahead of the experiment, all participants had reported their typical levels of paranoid thinking by filling out a questionnaire, as well as their own perceived social status and their political affiliation along the liberal-conservative spectrum. They were then paired with someone from a higher, lower or similar social status, or with someone who had similar or opposing political beliefs.

In each pair, one person got to decide whether to split the money 50-50 or to keep it all for themselves. The other person was then asked to rate how much they thought the decision was motivated by the decider's self-interest, and how much the decision was likely motivated by the decider wanting to deny them any of the prize - a measure of perceived harmful intent. The roles were then swapped with a new sum of money.

People who were paired with someone with a higher social status or with different political beliefs more frequently assumed their partner's decision had been motivated by wanting to cause them harm. In contrast, social difference did not affect how often people assumed their partner was motivated by self-interest.

Researchers also found that the over-perception of other people's harmful intentions occurred at the same rate, regardless of whether participants already had heightened levels of paranoid thinking.

"Our findings suggest that people who struggle with high levels of paranoia are equally well-tuned to social difference despite sometimes seeming that they misperceive the social world. This research may help us understand how exclusion and disadvantage fuel some of the most severe mental health problems," said co-author Dr Vaughan Bell (UCL Psychiatry).
-end-
The researchers were funded by the Royal Society and Wellcome.

University College London

Related Social Status Articles from Brightsurf:

Psychological status rather than cognitive status is associated with incorrect perception of risk of falling in patients with moderate stage dementia
Dementia is associated with an impaired self-perception with potentially harmful consequences for health status and clinical risk classification in this patient group with an extraordinary high risk of falling.

Effect of hydroxychloroquine on clinical status
This randomized trial compares the effects of hydroxychloroquine versus placebo on patients' clinical status at 14 days (home, requiring noninvasive or invasive ventilation or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, hospitalized, died) among adults hospitalized with COVID-19.

'Social cells' related to social behavior identified in the brain
A research team led by Professor TAKUMI Toru of Kobe University's Graduate School of Medicine (also a Senior Visiting Scientist at RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research) have identified 'social cells' in the brain that are related to social behavior.

Behaviors and traits that influence social status, according to evolutionary psychologists
Beyond fame and fortune, certain traits and behaviors may have pervasive influence in climbing the social ladder, according to a study by evolutionary psychologists at The University of Texas at Austin.

Social media influencers could encourage adolescents to follow social distancing guidelines
Public health bodies should consider incentivizing social media influencers to encourage adolescents to follow social distancing guidelines, say researchers.

Social grooming factors influencing social media civility on COVID-19
A new study analyzing tweets about COVID-19 found that users with larger social networks tend to use fewer uncivil remarks when they have more positive responses from others.

The status of women
What drives people seek to high social status? A common evolutionary explanation suggests men do so because, in the past, they were able to leverage their social position into producing more children and propagating their genes.

Social isolation during adolescence drives long-term disruptions in social behavior
Mount Sinai Researchers find social isolation during key developmental windows drives long term changes to activity patterns of neurons involved in initiating social approach in an animal model.

How status sticks to genes
Life at the bottom of the social ladder may have long-term health effects that even upward mobility can't undo, according to new research in monkeys.

Social media stress can lead to social media addiction
Social network users risk becoming more and more addicted to social media platforms even as they experience stress from their use.

Read More: Social Status News and Social Status Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.