Abstract

Several integrated models of psychosis have implicated adverse, stressful contexts and experiences, and affective and cognitive processes in the onset of psychosis. In these models, the effects of stress are posited to contribute to the development of psychotic experiences via pathways through affective disturbance, cognitive biases, and anomalous experiences. However, attempts to systematically test comprehensive models of these pathways remain sparse. Using the Experience Sampling Method in 51 individuals with first-episode psychosis (FEP), 46 individuals with an at-risk mental state (ARMS) for psychosis, and 53 controls, we investigated how stress, enhanced threat anticipation, and experiences of aberrant salience combine to increase the intensity of psychotic experiences. We fitted multilevel moderated mediation models to investigate indirect effects across these groups. We found that the effects of stress on psychotic experiences were mediated via pathways through affective disturbance in all 3 groups. The effect of stress on psychotic experiences was mediated by threat anticipation in FEP individuals and controls but not in ARMS individuals. There was only weak evidence of mediation via aberrant salience. However, aberrant salience retained a substantial direct effect on psychotic experiences, independently of stress, in all 3 groups. Our findings provide novel insights on the role of affective disturbance and threat anticipation in pathways through which stress impacts on the formation of psychotic experiences across different stages of early psychosis in daily life.

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