Advances in understanding and treating persecutory delusions: a review

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2014 Aug;49(8):1179-89. doi: 10.1007/s00127-014-0928-7. Epub 2014 Jul 9.


Purpose: Persecutory delusions are a central psychotic experience, at the severe end of a paranoia spectrum in the general population. The aim of the review is to provide an introduction to the understanding of persecutory delusions, highlight key putative causal factors that have the potential to be translated into efficacious treatment, and indicate future research directions.

Methods: A narrative literature review was undertaken to highlight the main recent areas of empirical study concerning non-clinical and clinical paranoia.

Results: Six main proximal causal factors are identified: a worry thinking style, negative beliefs about the self, interpersonal sensitivity, sleep disturbance, anomalous internal experience, and reasoning biases. Each has plausible mechanistic links to the occurrence of paranoia. These causal factors may be influenced by a number of social circumstances, including adverse events, illicit drug use, and urban environments.

Conclusions: There have been numerous replicated empirical findings leading to a significant advance in the understanding of persecutory delusions, now beginning to be translated into cognitive treatments. The first trials specifically focussed on patients who have persecutory delusions in the context of psychotic diagnoses are occurring. Initial evidence of efficacy is very promising.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Culture
  • Delusions / diagnosis
  • Delusions / psychology*
  • Delusions / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Paranoid Disorders / diagnosis
  • Paranoid Disorders / psychology*
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Psychotic Disorders / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Schizophrenia, Paranoid / diagnosis
  • Schizophrenia, Paranoid / psychology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Thinking