Background: The anticipation of threat or victimization is a core feature of paranoia. Cognitive theories of paranoia suggest that paranoid thoughts may arise as a psychological response to trauma exposure, which likewise may lead to greater anticipation of subsequent victimization. Little is known, however, about the relation between paranoid beliefs and anticipated victimization when accounting for past victimization experience. The present study aimed to address whether the experiences of past victimization contribute to the link between paranoid beliefs and the anticipation of threat or victimization, with a particular focus on exposure to police violence. Methods: Data were collected through the Survey of Police-Public Encounters (N = 1615), a cross-sectional, general population survey study conducted in four Eastern U.S. cities. Associations between paranoia and anticipated victimization were assessed using linear regression models, with and without adjustment for past victimization exposure. Results: Paranoid beliefs were positively associated with police victimization expectations (β = 0.19, p < 0.001), but these associations were statistically better explained by past exposures to similar victimization such that paranoia was no longer associated with anticipated victimization in adjusted models (β = 0.02, p = 0.451). To assess for the specificity of past exposures to victimization, adjusting for past exposure to intimate partner violence (as a control condition) did not eliminate the association between paranoia and expected police victimization. Conclusions: The overall findings are consistent with cognitive theories of paranoia in which paranoid beliefs may be a severe but normative reaction to past victimization exposures in some cases.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry