Coping With Perceived Abusive Supervision: The Role of Paranoia


Two studies (a cross-sectional survey of 90 UK workers and an experiment with 100 UK workers) examined the cognitive and behavioral effects of abusive supervision. Both studies confirmed the hypothesis that workers who experience abusive supervision show paranoia and this makes them more prone to a type of cognitive error called the “sinister attribution error”. This is where workers misattribute innocent workplace events such as tripping over something or hearing colleagues laughing to malevolent motives such as wanting to harm or mock them. Study 1 also showed that abusive supervision is associated with lower wellbeing. Perceived organizational support buffers these effects, and this is associated with workers making less sinister attribution errors, thereby protecting wellbeing. Study 2 explored the role of contextual cues by exposing workers to images of abusive supervision. This increased their paranoia and contributed to workers making sinister attribution errors when they were asked to interpret workplace events. Moreover, depending on the types of contextual cues, workers were more likely to express intention of workplace deviance after thinking about past experiences of abusive supervision. We recommend that corporate ethical responsibilities include training managers and workers about the negative cognitive and mental health effects of abusive supervision.


The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.


Abusive supervision, Paranoia, Perceived organizational support, Sinister attribution error, Wellbeing, Workplace deviance, Aggression


Lopes, B., Kamau, C. and Jaspal, R. (2018) Coping With Perceived Abusive Supervision: The Role of Paranoia. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 26 (2), pp. 237-255


Research Institute

Media Discourse Centre (MDC)
Mary Seacole Research Centre