From sexual abuse to psychosis: A pilot study exploring the social deafferentation hypothesis and the mediating role of avoidance
The social deafferentation hypothesis posits that social withdrawal in vulnerable individuals may result in anomalous perceptual and cognitive experiences that are consistent with psychotic hallucinations and delusions. Both psychosis vulnerability and social withdrawal are characteristic of many individuals who have experienced sexual abuse and a growing literature continues to document associations between experiences of sexual abuse and psychosis. The current study investigated if avoidant personality traits (characterised by social withdrawal) mediated the relationship between sexual abuse and psychosis symptom experience. Using data from the British Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (N?=?8580), a mediation model was specified and estimated. The estimates showed that the regression coefficients of avoidant personality traits on sexual abuse (B =.70), psychosis scores on avoidant personality traits (B?=?.09), and psychosis scores on sexual abuse (B =.45) were statistically significant. The mediated effect of sexual abuse on psychosis scores via avoidant personality traits was also significant (B?=?.06). The parameters of this mediated model were statistically significant after controlling for a range of demographic variables and potential risk factors for psychosis. Avoidance and social deafferentation may constitute a plausible hypothesis for exploring experiences of psychosis among victims of sexual abuse in some cases.