Apophenia as the disposition to false positives: A unifying framework for openness and psychoticism

Scott D. Blain, Julia M. Longenecker, Rachael G. Grazioplene, Bonnie Klimes-Dougan, Colin G. DeYoung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Positive symptoms of schizophrenia and its extended phenotype-often termed psychoticism or positive schizotypy-are characterized by the inclusion of novel, erroneous mental contents. One promising framework for explaining positive symptoms involves apophenia, conceptualized here as a disposition toward false-positive errors. Apophenia and positive symptoms have shown relations to openness to experience (more specifically, to the openness aspect of the broader openness/intellect domain), and all of these constructs involve tendencies toward pattern seeking. Nonetheless, few studies have investigated the relations between psychoticism and non-self-report indicators of apophenia, let alone the role of normal personality variation. The current research used structural equation models to test associations between psychoticism, openness, intelligence, and non-self-report indicators of apophenia comprising false-positive error rates on a variety of computerized tasks. In Sample 1, 1,193 participants completed digit identification, theory of mind, and emotion recognition tasks. In Sample 2, 195 participants completed auditory signal detection and semantic word association tasks. Psychoticism and the openness aspect were positively correlated. Self-reported psychoticism, openness, and their shared variance were positively associated with apophenia, as indexed by false-positive error rates, whether or not intelligence was controlled for. Apophenia was not associated with other personality traits, and openness and psychoticism were not associated with false-negative errors. Findings provide insights into the measurement of apophenia and its relation to personality and psychopathology. Apophenia and pattern seeking may be promising constructs for unifying the openness aspect of personality with the psychosis spectrum and for providing an explanation of positive symptoms. Results are discussed in the context of possible adaptive characteristics of apophenia as well as potential risk factors for the development of psychotic disorders. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-292
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


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