Persecutory Delusions and Personal Goals

Natasha Vorontsova

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The present thesis presents the first known systematic investigation of the personal goals and motivations of people with persecutory delusions. Motivational characteristics of goals are both theoretically implicated in symptom persistence and clinically relevant to the refinement of psychological therapies. Goals motivated by avoidance, rather than approach, and by external motivations rather than internal 'self-concordant' ones, have been implicated in the persistence of depression, and an analogous role in delusion persistence is feasible.
Thirty participants with persecutory delusions and schizophrenia-spectrum diagnoses completed measures of depression, anxiety and paranoia, as well as of goals and motivations. It was hypothesised that higher depression scores would be associated with fewer approach motivations, more avoidance motivations and lower self-concordance of goals, as has been found previously in groups without psychosis.
A phenomenological profile of participants' personal goals is presented. Two of the three study hypotheses were supported. Higher levels of depression were associated with more avoidance motivations and lower goal self-concordance in the group. An exploratory link of avoidance motivations with paranoia was also identified. The hypothesised association of depression with approach motivations was not found.
The findings are consistent with a proposal that avoidant and externally-motivated goal pursuit might contribute to the persistence of persecutory delusions, as well as depression. Therapeutic outcomes may be facilitated by supporting clients to identify self-concordant goals to approach valued achievements, rather than avoiding feared consequences. It is hoped that further research can continue to develop a motivational perspective on the experiences of those holding distressing persecutory beliefs, with the aim of improving psychological therapies for the future.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Ellett, Lyn, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • paranoia
  • psychosis
  • Goals
  • Motivation (psychology)

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