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Title: Paranoia and social mistrust in UK and Hong Kong children
Author: Wong, Keri Ka-Yee
ISNI:       0000 0004 6062 0981
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2015
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Recent work has shown that paranoia - excessive suspiciousness of others - exists on a spectrum of severity in the adult general population. Yet little is known about either the nature of mistrust in children or whether studying paranoia in children could increase our understanding of the aetiology of adult paranoia and inform early prevention strategies. The current thesis, comprised of three main studies, adopted a hitherto lacking developmental perspective to examine social mistrust in middle childhood. The first goal was to assess the structure, prevalence, correlates and short-term stability of childhood mistrust in nonclinical samples drawn from two different countries (the UK and Hong Kong). Classroom-based surveys of 8- to 14-year-olds from the UK (N = 1,086) and Hong Kong (N = 1,470) were carried out between 2011 and 2014. A new measure developed for the study was administered: The Social Mistrust Scale. The second goal was to examine children’s definitions and reasons for social trust and mistrust. This was a large qualitative examination of interviews with children, in order to learn more about the phenomenon at this age and generate future research questions to test. The final main goal was to test the association with childhood mistrust and a number of potential causal factors identified from the adult literature. Cognitive processes (i.e., reasoning bias, theory of mind and executive function) and psychosocial risk factors (i.e., bullying, loneliness, peer-rated social status, and hostile attribution bias) were studied. Overall, this thesis presented evidence that: (i) Social mistrust is prevalent in a minority of children, and it is associated with both internalising and externalising problems; (ii) Qualitative interviews indicated that mistrust was often well-justified but that a minority of children may well be having excessive suspiciousness about being targeted; (iii) Mistrustful children (especially with mistrust about school) report persistent victimisation and hostile attribution bias but do not show biases in non-affective cognitive performance compared with trusting peers; and (iv) There is moderate agreement between self-report and interviewer assessments of paranoia, child and peer ratings of mistrust but not with parent ratings. This thesis began the task of researching a developmental perspective on childhood suspiciousness, extending the work in adults. Mistrust is present in children and associated with symptoms of mental health problems and adverse experiences. The extent to which the fears were unfounded (i.e. true paranoia was assessed) was not established in the thesis nor the causal direction of the associations found. Continued research on social mistrust in community children and beyond may provide promising avenues to earlier preventions and better treatments of paranoia.
Supervisor: Hughes, Claire ; Freeman, Daniel Sponsor: University of Cambridge ; University of Oxford ; W. Wing Yip & Brothers ; British Psychological Society
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Paranoia ; Child development ; Cross-cultural