Can you honestly say that alone on a dimly lit street you've never wondered if those footsteps behind are the sound of someone following you?
Increasingly, psychologists are recognising that many of the thoughts and experiences, such as paranoia, that we associate with schizophrenia are widespread among the general population.
Now Michelle Campbell and Anthony Morrison have used interviews to compare the experience of paranoia among six 'healthy' Manchester University staff and students with the paranoia experienced by six patients diagnosed with psychosis.
Many aspects of paranoia were similar across the two groups – for example, all the participants reported finding their paranoid thoughts anxiety-provoking, and they all linked their paranoia with earlier negative life experiences.
But there were also some clear differences. The staff and students had a sense of control (e.g. “I think sometimes that other people might think that I am being a bit funny but I have got to protect myself”), whereas the patients did not feel in control (e.g. “Well it is a feeling that you are not really in control of your life when people are sort of plotting against you...”). Also, the staff and students' paranoid beliefs tended to be more mundane whereas the patients' were more outlandish, for example believing that their quiz answers were being passed to an intelligence agency.
Campbell and Morrison said their findings could have clinical implications: “Negative metacognitive beliefs concerning paranoia should be challenged, particularly those relating to the uncontrollable nature of paranoia, to reduce emotional distress.”
Campbell, M.L.C. & Morrison, A.P. (2007). The subjective experience of paranoia: Comparing the experiences of patients with psychosis and individuals with psychiatric history. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 14, 63-77.