Friday, June 14, 2013

Is Big Brother Watching? Paranoid Thoughts Common, Study Finds


In a week of revelations about secret government surveillance of phones and Internet activity, you might find yourself looking over your shoulder a little bit more often than usual. You're not alone, research suggests.

In fact, paranoid thoughts are relatively common among otherwise healthy people, according to a new study published this month in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

"A little bit of paranoia might be quite helpful," said study researcher Paul Bebbington, an emeritus professor of mental health at University College London. When paranoid thoughts take over, it can be a mental disorder. But wariness and mistrust are not unusual, Bebbington said. In fact, they're often protective, preventing people from, for example, blurting out their life's secrets to total strangers. 

"Everybody's a little bit wary in meeting somebody new," Bebbington told LiveScience. "In that sense, it's sort of adaptive."

Normal paranoia

Bebbington is part of a group of researchers working to develop talk-based therapies for psychosis, which psychiatrists define as disorders that impair people's grasp on reality. Paranoia is frequently a major component of psychosis. Paranoid people typically feel persecuted and mistrustful, and may have delusions of self-importance (for example, that the government is specifically out to get them). [The 10 Most Stigmatized Mental Health Disorders]

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