AskDefine | Define delusion

Dictionary Definition



1 (psychology) an erroneous belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary [syn: psychotic belief]
2 a mistaken or unfounded opinion or idea; "he has delusions of competence"; "his dreams of vast wealth are a hallucination" [syn: hallucination]
3 the act of deluding; deception by creating illusory ideas [syn: illusion, head game]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A false belief that is resistant to confrontation with actual facts.
  2. The state of being deluded or misled.
  3. That which is falsely or delusively believed or propagated; false belief; error in belief.

Derived terms


act of deluding; deception; a misleading of the mind
  • Danish: indbildning
  • German: Täuschung, Irreführung
  • Italian: delusione
state of being deluded or misled
  • German: Wahnvorstellung, Wahn
  • Italian: delusione
that which is falsely or delusively believed or propagated; false belief; error in belief


External links

Extensive Definition

A delusion is commonly defined as a fixed false belief and is used in everyday language to describe a belief that is either false, fanciful or derived from deception.
Delusion is 1. logical inconsequent or contradictory to widely approved knowlegde about the real world 2. maintained despite contrary prooves due to the strong personal and rational impenetrable certainty of the concerned.
In psychiatry, the definition is necessarily more precise and implies that the belief is pathological (the result of an illness or illness process). As a pathology it is distinct from a belief based on false or incomplete information or certain effects of perception which would more properly be termed an apperception or illusion.
Delusions typically occur in the context of neurological or mental illness, although they are not tied to any particular disease and have been found to occur in the context of many pathological states (both physical and mental). However, they are of particular diagnostic importance in psychotic disorders and particularly in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Psychiatric definition

Although non-specific concepts of madness have been around for several thousand years, the psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers was the first to define the three main criteria for a belief to be considered delusional in his book General Psychopathology. These criteria are:
  • certainty (held with absolute conviction)
  • incorrigibility (not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
  • impossibility or falsity of content (implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)
These criteria still continue in modern psychiatric diagnosis. In the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a delusion is defined as:
A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith).
There is some controversy over this definition, as 'despite what almost everybody else believes' implies that a person who believes something most others do not is a candidate for delusional thought.

Diagnostic issues

The modern definition and Jaspers' original criteria have been criticised, as counter-examples can be shown for every defining feature.
Studies on psychiatric patients have shown that delusions can be seen to vary in intensity and conviction over time which suggests that certainty and incorrigibility are not necessary components of a delusional belief.
Delusions do not necessarily have to be false or 'incorrect inferences about external reality'. Some religious or spiritual beliefs by their nature may not be falsifiable, and hence cannot be described as false or incorrect, no matter whether the person holding these beliefs was diagnosed as delusional or not.
In other situations the delusion may turn out to be true belief. For example, delusional jealousy, where a person believes that their partner is being unfaithful (and may even follow them into the bathroom believing them to be seeing their lover even during the briefest of partings) may result in the faithful partner being driven to infidelity by the constant and unreasonable strain put on them by their delusional spouse. In this case the delusion does not cease to be a delusion because the content later turns out to be true.
In other cases, the delusion may be assumed to be false by a doctor or psychiatrist assessing the belief, because it seems to be unlikely, bizarre or held with excessive conviction. Psychiatrists rarely have the time or resources to check the validity of a person’s claims leading to some true beliefs to be erroneously classified as delusional. This is known as the Martha Mitchell effect, after the wife of the attorney general who alleged that illegal activity was taking place in the White House. At the time her claims were thought to be signs of mental illness, and only after the Watergate scandal broke was she proved right (and hence sane).
Similar factors have led to criticisms of Jaspers' definition of true delusions as being ultimately 'un-understandable'. Critics (such as R. D. Laing) have argued that this leads to the diagnosis of delusions being based on the subjective understanding of a particular psychiatrist, who may not have access to all the information which might make a belief otherwise interpretable.
Another difficulty with the diagnosis of delusions is that almost all of these features can be found in "normal" beliefs. Many religious beliefs hold exactly the same features, yet are not universally considered delusional. Similarly, Thomas Kuhn argued in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that scientists can hold strong beliefs in scientific theories despite considerable apparent discrepancies with experimental evidence.
These factors have led the psychiatrist Anthony David to note that "there is no acceptable (rather than accepted) definition of a delusion." In practice psychiatrists tend to diagnose a belief as delusional if it is either patently bizarre, causing significant distress, or excessively pre-occupies the patient, especially if the person is subsequently unswayed in belief by counter-evidence or reasonable arguments.

Further reading

  • Bell, V., Halligan, P.W. & Ellis, H. (2003) Beliefs about delusions. The Psychologist, 16(8), 418-423. Full text
  • Blackwood NJ, Howard RJ, Bentall RP, Murray RM. (2001) Cognitive neuropsychiatric models of persecutory delusions. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158 (4), 527-39. Full text
  • Coltheart, M. & Davies, M. (2000) (Eds.) Pathologies of belief. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-22136-0
  • Persaud, R. (2003) From the Edge of the Couch: Bizarre Psychiatric Cases and What They Teach Us About Ourselves. Bantam. ISBN 0-553-81346-3.


delusion in Bulgarian: Налудност
delusion in Catalan: Deliri
delusion in Czech: Blud
delusion in Danish: Vrangforestilling
delusion in German: Wahn
delusion in Estonian: Luul
delusion in Spanish: Delirio
delusion in French: Délire
delusion in Italian: Delirio
delusion in Hebrew: מחשבות שווא
delusion in Georgian: ბოდვა
delusion in Latin: Delirium
delusion in Dutch: Waan
delusion in Japanese: 妄想
delusion in Norwegian: Vrangforestilling
delusion in Polish: Urojenie
delusion in Portuguese: Delírio (juízo)
delusion in Russian: Бред
delusion in Simple English: Delusion
delusion in Slovak: Blud
delusion in Serbian: Делузија
delusion in Finnish: Harhaluulo
delusion in Swedish: Vanföreställning
delusion in Chinese: 妄想

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

aberrancy, aberration, acting, affectation, agnosia, airy nothing, apparition, appearance, artifice, attitudinizing, autism, bamboozlement, befooling, block, blocking, bluff, bluffing, bubble, calculated deception, casuistry, cheat, cheating, chicane, chicanery, chimera, circumvention, color, coloring, conning, counterfeit, daydream, deceit, deceiving, deception, deceptiveness, defectiveness, defrauding, delirium, deluded belief, delusion of persecution, delusiveness, dereism, deviancy, disguise, disorientation, dissemblance, dissembling, dissimulation, distortion, dream, dream vision, dreamland, dreamworld, dupery, eidolon, enmeshment, ensnarement, entanglement, entrapment, equivocation, errancy, erroneousness, error, facade, face, fake, fakery, faking, fallaciousness, fallacy, false air, false belief, false front, false show, falseness, falsity, fancy, fantasy, fault, faultiness, feigning, feint, figment, flaw, flawedness, flight of ideas, flimflam, flimflammery, fond illusion, fooling, four-flushing, fraud, front, ghost, gilt, gloss, hallucination, hallucinosis, hamartia, heresy, heterodoxy, hoodwinking, humbug, humbuggery, ignis fatuus, illusion, imposture, kidding, masquerade, mental block, mental confusion, meretriciousness, mirage, misapplication, misbelief, misconception, misconstruction, misdoing, misfeasance, misinterpretation, misjudgment, mistake, nihilism, nihilistic delusion, ostentation, outward show, outwitting, overreaching, paralogia, peccancy, perversion, phantasm, phantom, pipe dream, playacting, pose, posing, posture, pretense, pretension, pretext, psychological block, putting on, representation, ruse, seeming, self-contradiction, self-deceit, self-deception, self-delusion, semblance, shade, sham, show, simulacrum, simulation, sin, sinfulness, snow job, song and dance, sophism, sophistry, speciousness, spoofery, spoofing, spuriousness, stratagem, subterfuge, swindling, trick, trickery, trickiness, tricking, trip, unorthodoxy, untrueness, untruth, untruthfulness, vapor, varnish, victimization, vision, willful misconception, window dressing, wishful thinking, wrong, wrong impression, wrongness
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