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Am J Psychiatry. 2001 Apr;158(4):527-39.

Cognitive neuropsychiatric models of persecutory delusions.

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  • 1Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, London SE5 8AF, UK.



The major cognitive theories of persecutory delusion formation and maintenance are critically examined in this article.


The authors present a comprehensive review of the literature, citing results of relevant functional neuroimaging and neural network studies.


People with persecutory delusions selectively attend to threatening information, jump to conclusions on the basis of insufficient information, attribute negative events to external personal causes, and have difficulty in envisaging others' intentions, motivations, or states of mind. Presence of the "reality distortion" cluster of psychotic symptoms correlates with cerebral blood flow in the left lateral prefrontal cortex, ventral striatum, superior temporal gyrus, and parahippocampal region. Social cognitive processing (selective attention to threat, attribution of causation or mental states) in normal subjects involves similar areas. Neural network models of persecutory delusions highlight the importance of disordered neuromodulation in their formation and of disordered neuroplasticity in their maintenance.


Further studies examining the interaction of these cognitive processes, cross-sectionally and longitudinally, at cognitive psychological, neural network, and functional neuroanatomical levels are warranted to establish a comprehensive cognitive neuropsychiatric model of the persecutory delusion.

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