Study: Paranoia is Self-Fulfilling

Worried that your colleagues are talking behind your back? The fact that you're worrying will make them talk.

040_dwightfactsmain.jpgNBC

PROBLEM: Plenty of people have experienced the funny feeling that the people who are supposed to be on their side, be they classmates, teammates, or colleagues, may have turned against them. Does acting on these suspicions just end up making things worse?

METHODOLOGY: Researchers at the UBC Sauder School of Business used surveys, questionnaires, and experiments to determine subjects' MARTI, which stands for their "motivation to acquire relationship-threatening information," and measure its effects on one's interpersonal relationships. In one study, they presented subjects with ambiguous scenarios, such as hearing laughter coming from the lunchroom, to see if those with higher MARTI were more likely to interpret them as sinister. They also had participants describe strategies they might employ to find out whether their coworkers have said negative or positive things about them. Next, they tried to figure out whether people with higher MARTI and a tendency toward paranoid thought acted on their suspicions by, for example, "eavesdropping on a coworker's private phone conversation." Another study looked to see whether people exhibiting these previously established qualities and behaviors were more likely to be rejected socially. Finally, the researchers studied the way that anger factors into these interpersonal conflicts.

RESULTS: Basically, the researchers confirmed that people who are highly motivated to acquire relationship-threatening information exhibit paranoia and related behaviors. They also have a higher likelihood of being excluded and provoking anger among their group members. One interesting bit of data showed that paranoid,(high MARTI) people were 3.63 times more likely to be excluded from a group than people who wanted feedback and 16.5 times more likely to excluded than people who wanted to learn about group interactions.

CONCLUSION: It's a quick downward spiral from social uncertainty to paranoid thoughts and behaviors to ultimate social rejection. Ironically, those who are most predisposed to that initial uncertainty end up causing the problems they wanted to avoid.

The full study,"Do I want to know? How the motivation to acquire relationship-threatening information in groups contributes to paranoid thought, suspicion behavior, and social rejection" is published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes .

Presented by

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In