Psychological Medicine

Imaging attentional and attributional bias: an fMRI approach to the paranoid delusion

N. J. BLACKWOOD a1c1, R. J. HOWARD a1, D. H. ffYTCHE a1, A. SIMMONS a1, R. P. BENTALL a1 and R. M. MURRAY a1
a1 Departments of Psychological Medicine and Neuroimaging Research, Institute of Psychiatry, London; and Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Manchester, UK.


Background. The pathophysiology of auditory hallucinations and delusions of control has been elucidated using functional imaging. Despite their clinical importance, there have been few similar attempts to investigate paranoid delusions. We have examined two components of social cognition (attentional and attributional biases) that contribute to the formation and maintenance of paranoid delusions, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Method. Normal subjects performed tasks requiring attentional and attributional judgements. We investigated the neural response particularly associated with attention to threatening material relevant to self and with the ‘self-serving’ attributional bias.

Results. The determination of relevance to self of verbal statements of differing emotional valence involved left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (left inferior frontal gyrus, BA 47), right caudate and right cingulate gyrus (BA 24). Attention to threatening material relevant to self differentially activated a more dorsal region of the left inferior frontal gyrus (BA 44). Internal attributions of events, where the self was viewed as an active intentional agent, involved left precentral gyrus (BA 6) and left middle temporal gyrus (BA 39). Attribution of events in a non ‘self-serving’ manner required activation of the left precentral gyrus (BA 6).

Conclusions. Anomalous activity or connectivity within these defined regions may account for the attentional or attributional biases subserving paranoid delusion formation. This provides a simple model for paranoid delusion formation that can be tested in patients.

c1 Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK.