Pronoia (psychology)

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Pronoia is a neologism coined to describe a state of mind that is the opposite of paranoia. Whereas a person suffering from paranoia feels that persons or entities are conspiring against them, a person experiencing pronoia feels that the world around them conspires to do them good. In 1993 the writer and Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow defined pronoia as "the suspicion the Universe is a conspiracy on your behalf".[1]

The word may have first appeared in 1982, when the academic journal Social Problems published an article entitled "Pronoia" by Dr. Fred H. Goldner of Queens College in New York City, in which Goldner described a phenomenon opposite to paranoia and provided numerous examples of specific persons who displayed such characteristics.[2][3]

Pronoia is the positive counterpart of paranoia. It is the delusion that others think well of one. Actions and the products of one's efforts are thought to be well received and praised by others. Mere acquaintances are thought to be close friends; politeness and the exchange of pleasantries are taken as expressions of deep attachment and the promise of future support. Pronoia appears rooted in the social complexity and cultural ambiguity of our lives: we have become increasingly dependent on the opinions of others based on uncertain criteria.

Goldner's paper received a good deal of publicity at the time, including references in Psychology Today, the New York Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications.


Long before the term was coined, author J.D. Salinger referred to the concept later to be called pronoia in his 1955 novella, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. In it, the character Seymour Glass writes in his diary, “Oh, God, if I'm anything by a clinical name, I'm a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy."[4]

The writer Philip K Dick referred to pronoia as an antidote to paranoia in his private work, Exegesis, in which it is mentioned in relation to his perceived protection by an entity he called, V.A.L.I.S., an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System. Published posthumously in 2011, the word "pronoia" first appeared in his Exegesis in January 1980.[5] Dick suggested his own pronoia was based on an "intelligent analysis" of his mystical experiences, and was not "reflexive or mechanical" in its nature.[6]

Pronoia is also a prevalent theme in the 1988 novel The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. In it, the protagonist, a young boy, is told by an older man to pursue his dreams. He tells the boy, "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."[7] The book also deals with omens, signs that the universe wants the boy to follow a specific path, which will lead to his goal of fulfilling a dream.

In May 1994, Wired magazine published an article titled "Zippie!" The cover of the magazine featured a psychedelic image of a smiling young man with wild hair, a funny hat, and crazy eyeglasses. Written by Jules Marshall, the article announced an organized cultural response to Thatcherism in the United Kingdom. The opening paragraphs describe "a new and contagious cultural virus" and refer to pronoia as "the sneaking feeling one has that others are conspiring behind your back to help you". The article announces a cultural and musical invasion of the United States to rival the British Invasion of 1964-1966, culminating with a "Woodstock Revival" to be staged at the Grand Canyon in August 1994. The spokesperson for the Zippies, Fraser Clark, dubs this movement the "Zippy Pronoia Tour".[8] An article in The New York Times published in August 1994 also described the Zippies and their efforts. It contained two references to pronoia.[9]

In the 1997 film Fierce Creatures, Jamie Lee Curtis's character describes Kevin Kline's character as excessively pronoid: "It means that despite all the available evidence, you actually think that people like you. Your perception of life is that it is one long benefit dinner in your honor, with everyone cheering you on and wanting you to win everything. You think you're the prince, Vince."

The horoscope columnist Rob Brezsny proposed a philosophy based on pronoia in his 2005 book Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings.[10]

Actress Susan Sarandon, describing her experience in working on the 2012 film Cloud Atlas, described pronoia as the opposite of the noted line from Joseph Heller's Catch-22: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you"; Sarandon said "You just assume that the universe is conspiring for you, not against you. ... I think that the more you expect that, the more it actually works out."[11]

On July 13, 2018, in response to Donald Trump's claim that the British "love him", actor John Cleese explained in a series of tweets:

My American friends are asking me about President Trump’s observation that the British ‘like him’. I regret this is quite unfounded. The explanation for this canard is that Trump is pronoid. Pronoid is the opposite of paranoid. A paranoid person thinks, without any basis in reality, that everybody is out to get them. A pronoid person is someone who thinks, without any basis in reality, that everybody likes them.[This quote needs a citation][1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pronoia". Archived from the original on 2017-10-21. Retrieved 2008-06-11.[self-published source?]
  2. ^ Goldner, Fred (1982). "Pronoia". Social Problems. University of California Press. 30 (1): 82–91. doi:10.1525/sp.1982.30.1.03a00070. JSTOR 800186.
  3. ^ "pronoia, n.2". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) Additional note: "an earlier version of the paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Social Problems in Toronto, Canada, in August 1981"
  4. ^[self-published source?]
  5. ^ Dick, Philip K (2011). Jackson, Pamela; Lethem, Jonathan (eds.). Exegesis. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 568, 931. ISBN 978-0-547-54925-5.
  6. ^ Dick, Philip K (2011). Jackson, Pamela; Lethem, Jonathan (eds.). Exegesis. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 610–1. ISBN 978-0-547-54925-5.
  7. ^ Wikiquote:Paulo Coelho#The Alchemist .281988.29[self-published source?]
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2019-04-17. Retrieved 2010-09-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ Jolly, Mark (August 7, 1994) "For Peace and Love, Try Raving Till Dawn" The New York Times
  10. ^ Brezsny, Rob (2005). Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia. Frog, Ltd. and Televisionary Publishing. pp. 4–6. ISBN 1-58394-123-1.
  11. ^ Staff (October 26, 2012) "Susan Sarandon: I believe in pronoia" The Telegraph