Ideas of Reference

A concerned-looking office man watches two coworkers whispering.An idea of reference—sometimes called a delusion of reference—is the false belief that irrelevant occurrences or details in the world relate directly to oneself.

What Are Ideas of Reference?

Most people tend to believe other people think more about them than they actually do, and believing oneself to be more important than reality indicates is common. Ideas of reference are variations on this behavior, and occur when a person believes something is referring to them when it is not. For example, a person shopping in a store might see two strangers laughing and believe that they are laughing at him or her when in reality the other two people do not even notice the person. Some mental health professionals believe this thought error is a type of cognitive bias.

A delusion of reference is a more strongly-held idea of reference. While a person experiencing an idea of reference will change his or her mind when evidence dictates he/she must, a person experiencing a delusion will believe something refers back to him or her even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.

What Causes Ideas of Reference?

A person’s self-concept can affect his or her tendency to experience ideas of reference. For example, a person with low self-esteem or who is suspicious of other people might often feel that people are laughing at him or her. By contrast, a person who believes he or she is widely admired might believe that people are often staring at him/her and talking about him/her with awe. Delusions of reference may indicate a delusional disorder such as schizophrenia, and some personality traits may predispose a person to ideas of reference.


  1. Colman, A. M. (2001). A dictionary of psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. Purse, M. (n.d.). Ideas of reference. Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 01-17-2018

  • Leave a Comment
  • Tim Baber

    January 5th, 2014 at 5:40 AM

    I have just typed an answer on Yagoo answers on “ideas of reference”
    I am so pleased with how it came out please go grab it and use it if you can…the links amplify the argument which is not a replacement for the official answer, just something an old retired researcher was able to add few would get that far!

  • Tim Baber

    January 5th, 2014 at 9:45 AM

    It is the famous Dr Greenbaum speech (google has it) I refer to as well.

  • Kamal C

    January 18th, 2018 at 7:13 AM

    I think ideas of reference relates to thinking something obsessively and making false conceptions. You should learn reality checking/ Delusion. … Delusions of reference – A neutral event is believed to have a special and personal meaning. For example, a person with schizophrenia might believe a billboard or a celebrity is sending a message meant specifically for them. There is always room to grow with positive thinking and contributing to society.

  • hazel

    August 17th, 2019 at 8:38 AM

    I would like to know more on good therapy for schizophrenia

  • The GoodTherapy Team

    August 17th, 2019 at 10:27 AM

    Hi Hazel,

    Thanks for your comment. If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to visit our homepage,, and enter your postal/zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area. If you’re looking for a counselor that practices a specific type of therapy, or who deals with specific concerns, you can make an advanced search by clicking here:

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  • Stephanie

    March 16th, 2021 at 2:14 PM

    I agree!! I will add a third perspective which can be challenging as well as some spiritual beliefs subscribe to hearing outside of oneself from God, the universe, etc. Some can feel heightened senses when hearing something as an answer to prayer, etc. Ty.

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