This study aimed to investigate associations between proximity seeking, stress and paranoia in the context of daily life, and whether these relationships are moderated by trait attachment styles.
Sixty non-clinical participants completed 3423 assessments of state stress, proximity seeking and paranoia over a 6-day period using an experience sampling method. Multilevel linear regression was performed to evaluate relationships between variables.
The post-hoc analysis showed antecedent events subjectively appraised as very unpleasant or very pleasant predicted greater levels of momentary proximity seeking at the subsequent timepoint. Greater stress predicted greater subsequent shifts or variability in proximity seeking. Changes in proximity seeking were not associated with momentary paranoia. However, for individuals with an avoidant attachment style, greater shifts in proximity seeking resulted in greater subsequent reports of paranoia.
These findings suggest that, in daily life, the attachment system may become active in response to stress. For those with an avoidant attachment style, an active attachment system may exacerbate paranoid thoughts possibly due to the activation of attachment-related beliefs that one should be fearful of unavailable others and instead rely on one’s autonomy to regulate affect. These findings highlight the need to consider attachment in the assessment and formulation of paranoia.