The British Journal of Psychiatry
Suspicious young minds: paranoia and mistrust in 8- to 14-year-olds in the UK and Hong Kong
Keri K. Wong, Daniel Freeman, Claire Hughes
  • Declaration of interest




Research on paranoia in adults suggests a spectrum of severity, but this dimensional approach has yet to be applied to children or to groups from different countries.


To investigate the structure, prevalence and correlates of mistrust in children living in the UK and Hong Kong.


Children aged 8-14 years from the UK (n = 1086) and Hong Kong (n = 1412) completed a newly developed mistrust questionnaire as well as standard questionnaire measures of anxiety, self-esteem, aggression and callous-unemotional traits.


Confirmatory factor analysis of the UK data supported a three-factor model - mistrust at home, mistrust at school and general mistrust - with a clear positive skew in the data: just 3.4%, 8.5% and 4.1% of the children endorsed at least half of the mistrust items for home, school and general subscales respectively. These findings were replicated in Hong Kong. Moreover, compared with their peers, ‘mistrustful’ children (in both countries) reported elevated rates of anxiety, low self-esteem, aggression and callous-unemotional traits.


Mistrust may exist as a quantitative trait in children, which, as in adults, is associated with elevated risks of internalising and externalising problems.


  • Funding

    D.F. is supported by a Medical Research Council Senior Clinical Fellowship.

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