Do specific early-life adversities lead to specific symptoms of psychosis? A study from the 2007 the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey

Schizophr Bull. 2012 Jun;38(4):734-40. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbs049. Epub 2012 Apr 10.


Previous studies have reported associations between childhood adversities, eg, loss of a parent, being raised in institutional care, sexual and other kinds of abuse by adults and bullying by peers, and psychosis in adulthood. However, the mechanisms by which these adversities lead to psychotic experiences are poorly understood. From models of the psychological processes involved in positive symptoms, it was predicted that childhood sexual abuse would be specifically associated with auditory hallucinations in adulthood, and that disruption of early attachment relations and more chronic forms of victimization such as bullying would be specifically associated with paranoid ideation. We therefore examined the associations between sexual trauma, physical abuse, bullying, and being brought up in institutional or local authority care and reports of auditory hallucinations and paranoid beliefs in the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. All simple associations between childhood adversities and the two symptom types were significant. Childhood rape was associated only with hallucinations (OR 8.9, CI = 1.86-42.44) once co-occurring paranoia was controlled for. Being brought up in institutional care (OR = 11.08, CI = 3.26-37.62) was specifically associated with paranoia once comorbid hallucinations had been controlled for. For each symptom, dose-response relationships were observed between the number of childhood traumas and the risk of the symptom. The specific associations observed are consistent with current psychological theories about the origins of hallucinations and paranoia. Further research is required to study the psychological and biological mediators of these associations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Bullying / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Institutionalized / psychology
  • Child, Institutionalized / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Hallucinations / epidemiology*
  • Hallucinations / etiology
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Paranoid Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Paranoid Disorders / etiology
  • Psychotic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Psychotic Disorders / etiology
  • Risk Factors