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Nat Hum Behav. 2019 Feb;3(2):114-121. doi: 10.1038/s41562-018-0495-0. Epub 2018 Dec 17.

An evolutionary perspective on paranoia.

Author information

Department of Experimental Psychology, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, WC1H 0AP.
Division of Psychiatry, University College London.


Paranoia is the most common symptom of psychosis but paranoid concerns occur throughout the general population. Here, we argue for an evolutionary approach to paranoia across the spectrum of severity that accounts for its complex social phenomenology - including the perception of conspiracy and selective identification of perceived persecutors - and considers how it can be understood in light of our evolved social cognition. We argue that the presence of coalitions and coordination between groups in competitive situations could favour psychological mechanisms that detect, anticipate and avoid social threats. Our hypothesis makes testable predictions about the environments in which paranoia should be most common as well as the developmental trajectory of paranoia across the lifespan. We suggest that paranoia should not solely be viewed as a pathological symptom of a mental disorder but also as a part of a normally-functioning human psychology.

[Available on 2019-08-01]

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests statement The authors declare no competing interests.

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