Paranoia persists in mugging victims for months after attack, study finds

A study has shown that being mugged or randomly attacked in the street often leaves people paranoid and distrustful of others long after the attack. The research highlights a previously under-recognised consequence of physical assault which will help to inform therapy for those seeking help.

In the study, four out of five victims reported that since the assault they were more fearful of other people than they wanted to be. Importantly the study identified what led to excessive mistrust lasting over the next six months. Being attacked close to home, feeling defeated at the time, worrying excessively afterwards, feeling unsupported by others, and difficulties sleeping all meant paranoid fears remained in a person’s mind.

It’s well known that being physically assaulted can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is the first study to assess for feelings of paranoia, an excessive mistrust of other people, in the months after an attack. It was found that the victims’ fears about their attacker often spread to thoughts about other people, such that they had become wary of many people around them. Half of the study participants said that since the assault they felt fearful of all females, and two thirds said that they felt fearful of all males. One in ten had very high levels of paranoia in the months after the assault.

The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, followed 106 people who had attended hospital with minor injuries after a physical assault and monitored them over the next six months for symptoms of PTSD and paranoia.

The paranoia was assessed in multiple ways by the study psychologists. They used self-reporting, careful interviewing by trained assessors, and an innovative virtual reality test to monitor how the participants perceive neutral computer characters. The team showed that the fears even transferred to virtual reality computer representations of people.

Professor Daniel Freeman from the University of Oxford, who led the study whilst at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, said: “It is very understandable that being attacked makes us wary of the people around us. Our mindset may become more like that of a bodyguard, vigilant for danger. When we are overly mistrustful, that is a form of paranoia. It may well be a normal temporary change in our thinking after being a victim of attack. The danger of such thoughts, however, is if we isolate ourselves, close off from others, and spend our time thinking only of the worst. It is an under-recognised problem in the aftermath of an attack.

Summing up the study, Professor Freeman concluded: “Traditionally it was thought paranoid thinking was rare in the aftermath of an attack. It was thought that paranoia only occurred in severe cases of PTSD. However fears about other people may well actually be typical. If you have been attacked, these sorts of thoughts are to be expected. And paranoid thoughts are much more likely to remain depending upon how we respond both during and after the attack. We plan to use this information to improve the latest generation of cognitive behaviour therapies for those seeking help.”

The full paper is available via Open Access here:



  1. I was recently set upon by a pair of young thugs as I was walking to my car after dinner with a client, being a well dressed businesswoman walking alone at night I suppose I made an inviting and easy target. Not content with just robbing me, (I was so terrified I made no attempt to resist them taking my handbag) they dragged me into a secluded alleyway where I was brutally beaten up. To be so viciously attacked has left me in utter terror of walking anywhere alone, and I am sure it will be a long time before I am able to come anywhere near to terms with the horror of this.

  2. I was attacked on my bike coming off a path. I had my phone out which I’m assuming initially caught their attention. That tried approaching me but I resisted their offers..that drove off and the confrontation left me a little nervous. I had texted my bf a fast text and they had drove up being me one of them hit me in the head and knocked me off my bike. Then he took my phone, and punched me. I was on the ground and he went through all my pockets taking my money, which was only 40$. The house was right down street. I got there and ran inside and the punch had split my eyebrow. I was very scared. And I believe I have PTSD. Any slow moving cars spook me as well as any black male walking on street. I was never like that before, and I hate this feeling.

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