Background. Attributions play an important role in depression and paranoia. However, contrary to most attributional models of psychopathology, there is evidence that attributional style is not a stable trait but is affected by recent experiences.

Method. Paranoid, depressed, and healthy participants were exposed to a mild stressor in the form of the requirement to complete an anagram task, which included insoluble items. Before and afterwards, they completed measures of attributional style for negative events and a contingency judgment task.

Results. Replicating previous findings, paranoid patients initially showed low internality scores for negative events and high judgments of control on the contingency judgment task, whereas the depressed participants showed high internality for negative events and low judgments of control. Following the anagram task, both clinical groups showed increased internality for hypothetical negative events. The paranoid participants also gave increased estimates of control on the contingency judgment task.

Conclusions. Attributional style is more labile in paranoid and depressed patients than in healthy individuals. Implications for attributional theories of psychopathology are discussed.