Previous work has demonstrated that the tendency to make hostile attributions is not a stable trait but varies across different social situations. Therefore, we sought to investigate whether hostile attributions within clinical samples are better understood as a persistent characteristic or one that varies across contexts.
The current analyses investigated patterns of attributions among people diagnosed with schizophrenia (SCZ, n = 271) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD, n = 100) and non-clinical control participants (NCC, n = 233) in an existing data set.
Results showed that specific relational features in vignettes portraying different social encounters influence the way people make attributions and that variability across contexts is present in both non-clinical and clinical populations. Like non-clinical participants, participants diagnosed with ASD ascribed the greatest hostility to a scene involving an authority figure. In contrast, SCZ participants reported the greatest hostility in response to a scene involving a friend.
These findings suggest that salient environmental factors should be considered when assessing social cognitive skills and biases.
Hostile attributions should be perceived as situational constructs rather than stable and persistent characteristics. Hostile attributions were most prevalent among persons diagnosed with schizophrenia; however, on average, all participants showed greater hostility for situations involving an authority figure, an acquaintance, or a friend relative to those involving a co-worker or stranger. Psychotherapists and clinicians working with people diagnosed with schizophrenia or autism spectrum disorder could work on identifying situation triggers, which may prompt hostile attributions. Psycho-educational and psychotherapeutic interventions can be altered based on individual triggers of hostile attributions, and attempts can be made to lessen these attributions. Paranoia appears to be linked to hostile attributions regardless of the specific clinical diagnosis and should be considered in the therapeutic process.

© 2021 The British Psychological Society.