Paranoia is an instinct or thought process that is believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of delusion and irrationality.
Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs, or beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat towards oneself (i.e. “Everyone is out to get me”).
Paranoid beliefs seem to be associated with feelings of powerlessness and victimization, enhanced by social situations. Potential causes of these effects included a sense of believing in external control, and mistrust which can be strengthened by lower socioeconomic status. Those living in a lower socioeconomic status may feel less in control of their own lives.
Making false accusations and the general distrust of other people also frequently accompany paranoia. For example, a paranoid person might believe an incident was intentional when most people would view it as an accident or coincidence.
Paranoia can evolve from parental relationships and untrustworthy environments. These environments could include being very disciplinary, stringent, and unstable. It was even noted that, “indulging and pampering (thereby impressing the child that they are something special and warrants special privileges),” can be contributing backgrounds.
Experiences likely to enhance or manifest the symptoms of paranoia include increased rates of disappointment, stress, and a hopeless state of mind.
Discrimination has also been reported as a potential predictor of paranoid delusions. Such reports that paranoia seemed to appear more in older patients who had experienced higher levels of discrimination throughout their lives.
In addition to this it has been noted that immigrants are quite susceptible to forms of psychosis. This could be due to the aforementioned effects of discriminatory events and humiliation.
A paranoid reaction may be also caused from a decline in brain circulation as a result of high blood pressure or hardening of the arterial walls.
Social psychological research has proposed a mild form of paranoid cognition, paranoid social cognition, that has its origins in social determinants more than intra-psychic conflict.
This perspective states that in milder forms, paranoid cognitions may be very common among normal individuals. For instance, it is not strange that people may exhibit in their daily life, self-centered thought such as they are being talked about, suspiciousness about other’ intentions, and assumptions of ill-will or hostility (i.e. people may feel as if everything is going against them).
These milder forms of paranoid cognition may be considered as an adaptive response to cope with or make sense of a disturbing and threatening social environment.