A Paradigm for the Study of Paranoia in the General Population: The Prisoner’s Dilemma Game

Lyn Ellett, Rhani Allen, Adele Stevens, Tim Wildschut, Paul Chadwick

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A growing body of research shows that paranoia is common in the general population. We report three studies that examined the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game (PDG) as a paradigm for evaluation of nonclinical paranoia. The PDG captures three key qualities that are at the heart of paranoia – it is interpersonal, it concerns threat, and it concerns the perception of others’ intentions towards the self. Study 1 (n=175) found that state paranoia was positively associated with selection of the competitive PDG choice. Study 2 (n=111) found that this association was significant only when participants believed they were playing the PDG against another person, and not when playing against a computer. This finding underscores the interpersonal nature of paranoia and the concomitant necessity of studying paranoia in interpersonal context. In Study 3 (n=152), we assessed both trait and state paranoia, and differentiated between distrust- and greed-based competition. Both trait and state paranoia were positively associated with distrust-based competition (but not with greed-based competition). Crucially, we found that the association between trait paranoia and distrust-based competition was fully mediated by state paranoia. The PDG is a promising paradigm for the study of nonclinical paranoia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-63
JournalCognition and Emotion
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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