"We are now starting to discover that madness is human and that we need to look at normal people to understand it," said Dr. Jim van Os, a professor of psychiatry at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
Paranoia is defined as the exaggerated or unfounded fear that others are trying to hurt you. That includes thoughts that other people are trying to upset or annoy you, for example, by staring, laughing, or making unfriendly gestures.
According to a report in LiveScience:
Surveys of several thousands of people in Britain, the United States and elsewhere have found that rates of paranoia are slowly rising, although researchers' estimates of how many of us have paranoid thoughts varies widely, from 5 percent to 50 percent."People walk around with odd thoughts all the time," said David Penn, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina. "The question is if that translates into real behavior."
A British survey of more than 8,500 adults found that 21 percent of people thought there had been times when others were acting against them. Another survey of about 1,000 adults in New York found that nearly 11 percent thought other people were following or spying on them.
Dennis Combs, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Tyler, has been studying paranoia for about a decade. When he first started conducting paranoia studies, mostly in college students, he found that about 5 percent of them had paranoid thoughts. In recent years, that has tripled to about 15 percent, he said.
Post-9/11 Fears Fueling Paranoia
The post-9/11 atmosphere and the war on terror also have increased levels of paranoia in the West, some experts said. "We are bombarded with information about our alert status and we're told to report suspicious-looking characters," Penn said. "That primes people to be more paranoid."
Traumatic events can make people more vulnerable to having paranoid thoughts. Since the attacks, Penn said Americans have been conditioned to be more vigilant of anything out of the ordinary. While heightened awareness may be good thing, he said it can also lead to false accusations and an atmosphere where strangers are negatively viewed.
Click here for the LiveScience article.
Drawing by John Sieger.