Factors Influencing Beliefs About Oneself and Others in Undergraduate Students

think-yourselfBeliefs underlie our daily interactions, relationships, and assist in our functioning. When beliefrelated processes become dysfunctional (e.g., thought disorder, delusional ideation), these phenomenon may be associated with a wide range of clinical impairments Schizophrenia-spectrum disorders often involve impairments in thought processing, communication, and beliefs that may be present on a continuum ranging from sub-clinical (mild) to severe symptoms (Debban et al., 2012 ).

In some instances, delusional beliefs appear to provide individuals with an increased sense of purpose or meaning in life and help manage stress and anxiety (Roberts, 1991). Metacognitive beliefs have been related to errors in knowing if an experience, thought, or memory is internally or externally generated (known as source monitoring; Arguedas et al., 2012). These source monitoring errors occur more often in individuals at-risk for schizophrenia (i.e., high levels of schizotypy, hallucinatory-like experiences) and may lead to beliefs based on false notions (Johnson et al., 1993).

In addition, there is some suggestion that an association exists between schizophrenia and physical health conditions that perhaps impacts both physical and mental conditions and disorders (Pedersen et al., 2012; Han et al., 2013). The current study sought to examine factors (i.e., metacognition, source monitoring, lifestyle and health issues) that could potentially influence the development of a number of problematic (delusional or delusionallike) beliefs.

Based on the current literature, we developed three a priori hypotheses. We anticipated that:

(1) higher levels of delusional ideation would predict higher levels negative metacognitive beliefs and schizotypy,

(2) problematic lifestyle and health behaviors would be related to poor mood/wellbeing, and levels of delusional ideation and other schizophrenia-spectrum symptoms.

(3) We also had an exploratory hypothesis where we anticipated relationships between physical symptoms (asthma, obesity, history of diabetes and inflammation) and levels of delusional ideation and other schizophrenia-spectrum symptoms. Data collection is ongoing with upwards of 250 undergraduate students participating in this study. Participants volunteered for this study and completed an IRB-approved informed consent form before doing the study.

The following measures were used to examine beliefs and other factors: Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire-Brief Revised, Peters et al. Delusions Inventory-40, Metacognitions Questionnaire-30, Lifestyle and Habits Questionnaire-Brief Version, a questionnaire related to specific health conditions, Launay-Slade Hallucination Scale, a source monitoring activity, World Health Organization-Spiritual, Religious, Personal Beliefs questionnaire, and the Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale.

Preliminary results are reported in this abstract and additional results will be discussed in the paper presentation. We found support for our first hypothesis, where metacognitive activity and schizotypy significantly predicted delusion-like experiences. There was also strong support for relationships between lifestyle variables and mental health where higher levels of psychological health formed significant negative correlations with stress, anxiety, and depression.

Interestingly, higher sense of purpose was positively correlated to expansive and primary delusions. This indicates that certain delusions may actually provide some sort of structure or support to individuals, rather than harming them psychologically, which is consistent with some previous literature and in opposition to others. There was limited support for our third exploratory hypothesis. Health symptoms were not generally associated with schizophrenia-spectrum symptoms.

However, health worries were related to schizotypy, mood, and specific delusional-like beliefs. Health worries, including fear or frustration with one’s health, were positively correlated to delusions of control, simple delusions, delusions of reference, and other delusions. Such delusions may be prominent in those that have health worries because of the lack of control one might feel during a health problem.

For example, it might reduce anxiety to believe that my health behaviors are imposed on me by an outside agency (i.e., delusions of control) since this reduces the need for me to change difficult behaviors. The importance of findings from this study could possibly include identifying potential factors that can lead to delusional ideation and predict symptom severity of schizotypy and delusional beliefs. Clinically, information about beliefs might aid in the development of more adaptable and individualized preventative treatments in those at risk for schizophrenia.

Authors: Sharanjit Pujji & Tom Dinzeo, PhD

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