What is bizarre in bizarre delusions? A critical review

Schizophr Bull. 2010 Jul;36(4):667-79. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbq001. Epub 2010 Feb 8.


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) treats the presence of bizarre delusions (BD) as the heaviest-weighted clinical criterion of schizophrenia. Although BD play a major role in contemporary diagnostic systems, only a few empirical studies explore this issue. These studies provide highly heterogenous results because they are based on different experimental paradigms, in terms of definition, clinical sample, and number of raters. Here, we first discuss the psychopathological sources of the concept of BD, which were initially described as either nonsensical or incomprehensible. Then, we provide a critical review of contemporary studies on the reliability of BD and their methodological and conceptual limitations. Current approaches have focused intensely on BD's reliability and have defined BD strictly in terms of delusional content--mainly in terms of the physical impossibility or the cultural or historical incomprehensibility of the delusional claims. These approaches have neglected formal features of experience that underlie BD and the crucial issue of the nature and validity of BD. In the discussion, we argue that clinical diagnosis of BD cannot be limited to delusional contents alone and requires taking into account the subjective side of BD (how altered experience manifests itself) as well as the conditions of intersubjective encounter (how BD are expressed to and experienced by the clinician). The notion of "bizarreness" in schizophrenia is not purely theoretical; it has practical relevance for the therapeutic encounter and implications on further empirical research and on diagnostic approaches.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Delusions / diagnosis
  • Delusions / psychology*
  • Delusions / therapy
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Observer Variation
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychopathology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Schizophrenia / diagnosis*
  • Schizophrenia / therapy
  • Schizophrenic Psychology*