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The fear of others: a qualitative analysis of interpersonal threat in social phobia and paranoia.

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Stopa L1, Denton R, Wingfield M, Taylor KN.

Abstract

BACKGROUND AND AIMS:

The cognitive models indicate that people with social phobia and paranoia share a common fear of others. While we recognize clinical differences, it is likely that some of the same psychological processes contribute to the maintenance of both presentations, yet the nature and extent of these similarities and differences are not yet clearly understood. This study explored threat experiences in people with social phobia and persecutory delusions in order to elucidate these aspects of the respective cognitive models.

METHOD:

Accounts of interpersonal threat experiences were examined in nine people with social phobia and nine people with persecutory delusions. Verbatim transcripts were analyzed using thematic analysis.

RESULTS:

Three major themes emerged from the data: participants' experience of threat, reactions while under threat, and subsequent reflections. Narrative coherence emerged as a superordinate theme. Typical fear responses were found in both groups, particularly in their reactions to threat. The key differences were in participants' perceptual experiences, ability to stand back from the threat following the event, and narrative coherence.

CONCLUSIONS:

The findings are discussed in relation to current cognitive models of social phobia and paranoia. Theoretical and clinical implications are drawn out, and highlight the need to examine attentional and metacognitive processes more closely if we are to understand the maintenance of perceived threat in these groups, and means of alleviating associated distress.

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