A comparison of self- and other-attributions in paranoid, depressed and non-patient individuals

Byrne, Sarah (1999). A comparison of self- and other-attributions in paranoid, depressed and non-patient individuals. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e243


A "self-serving" attributional bias (attributing positive events to something about oneself, and negative events to external factors) commonly found in non-patients has been found to be exaggerated in patients with persecutory delusions. Moreover, research using a newly developed attribution measure, the Internal, Personal and Situational Attributions Questionnaire (IPSAQ; 1996), found that paranoid patients tended to exhibit a "personalizing bias" for negative events, choosing external attributions that located blame in others. Such attributional biases have been found in relation to self-referent events but it is unclear whether they are also found in relation to other-referent events.

The present study investigated whether participants made differential attributions, depending on whether hypothetical events were happening to themselves or to another person. The IPSAQ was modified to incorporate another dimension: self- versus other-referent events. The modification was piloted on 21 non-patients and some additional alterations made.

There is also debate about the relationship between self-esteem and depression in people with persecutory delusions. Consequently, this was also explored in the study.

In the main study, there were 62 participants (20 patients with persecutory delusions, 21 depressed patients, 21 non-patients). Findings indicated acceptable test-retest and internal reliability for the IPSAQ-M. For self-referent events, paranoid participants made more external-personal attributions for negative events than depressed participants (but not non-patients). Depressed participants exhibited an abnormal attributional style. Paranoid participants did not exhibit an exaggerated self-serving bias or a personalizing bias. For other referent events, depressed patients made causal attributions similar to nonpatients. A difference in attributions, between self- and other-referent events, was less clear for paranoid participants.

In addition, significant negative correlations were found between self-esteem and depression for all three groups, supporting a "normal emotional processes' account of persecutory delusions.

Implications for psychological treatment and possible avenues for future research were discussed, as well as methodological and theoretical limitations of this study.

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