The effect of unfavourable and favourable social comparisons on paranoid ideation: An experimental study

Leonie Ascone, Edo S. Jaya, Tania M. Lincoln

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Background and objectives Low social rank is associated with paranoia, but there is a lack of evidence for causality. We tested the effects of social comparisons on negative affect and paranoia with an online social rank paradigm, and whether striving to avoid inferiority or fears of social rejection moderated paranoid reactions. Method Female students (N = 172) were randomly exposed to one of two validated online profiles depicting a same-aged, high (unfavourable comparison) vs. low rank (favourable comparison) female student. Moderators were assessed at baseline. Social rank, anxiety, sadness and paranoia were assessed pre and post profile-exposure. Results There was a large effect of the experimental manipulation on social rank (p < 0.001, η2partial = 0.191). The manipulations had no effects on anxiety and paranoia (p > 0.38). Sadness was significantly altered (p = 0.016, η2partial = 0.033). There were significant moderation effects between the experimental conditions and insecure striving (trend-level) as well as fears of rejection. Limitations Our findings may be biased (overestimation of effects) as students are likely to be more competitive compared to the general population. Conclusion Our rank manipulations did not alter paranoia. This suggests that changes in the cognitive representation of social rank alone - without triggering a strong emotional response – do not suffice to evoke paranoia. Although our results do not support the notion that threats to social rank cause paranoid symptoms, they suggest that threats to social rank are more likely to trigger paranoid states in those who are insecure in regard to their social position.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-105
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017


  • Fears of rejection
  • Negative emotions
  • Paranoia
  • Social comparisons
  • Social rank
  • Striving to avoid inferiority


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