Delusions of reference: A new theoretical model

Mike Startup*, Sandra Bucci, Robyn Langdon

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    16 Citations (Scopus)


    Introduction. Although delusions of reference are one of the most common psychotic symptoms, they have been the focus of little research, possibly because they have been considered to be integral to persecutory delusions. Evidence has now emerged that there are two kinds of delusion of reference. One of these, referential delusions of communication, which involves beliefs that others are communicating in subtle, nonverbal ways, is the focus of this paper. Methods. We present a new model designed to account for the four crucial aspects of the phenomenology of these delusions: (1) that neutral stimuli are experienced as having personal significance; (2) that the neutral stimuli are experienced as communicating a message nonverbally; (3) that the content of the message concerns the self; (4) that the experience of a self-referent communication is believed rather than being dismissed as implausible. We used PsycINFO and Scopus, using the term delusion* of reference, to search for publications with a bearing on our model. Results. The amount of research we found that was designed to test aspects of this model is small but other published research appears to provide some support for its various steps. Much of this research was not explicitly intended to provide an account of delusions of reference but its relevance nevertheless seems clear. Conclusions. There is preliminary support for the plausibility of our model but much additional research is needed. We conclude by summarising what we consider to be the main desiderata.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)110-126
    Number of pages17
    JournalCognitive Neuropsychiatry
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


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