Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 199–230 | Cite as

The sinister attribution error: Paranoid cognition and collective distrust in organizations

  • Roderick M. Kramer


Recent social psychological research on paranoid cognition has shown that when individuals are self-conscious or feel under evaluative scrutiny, they tend to overestimate the extent to which they are the target of others' attention. As a result, they make overly personalistic attributions about others' behavior. These personalistic attributions, in turn, foster a pattern of heightened distrust and suspicion regarding others' motives and intentions. Drawing on this research, the present work investigates antecedents and consequences of paranoid cognition in groups and organizations. Results of two studies are presented. Study 1 investigates how tenure in a group or organization affects individuals' self-consciousness and susceptibility to paranoid cognition. Study 2 replicates and extends the results of the first study using a new laboratory analog for studying paranoid cognition in small groups. Implications of the findings are discussed in terms of their contribution to theory regarding the origins and dynamics of collective distrust and suspicion.


Small Group Social Psychology Psychological Research Social Psychological Research Laboratory Analog 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roderick M. Kramer
    • 1
  1. 1.Stanford UniversityUSA

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