Suppose person X is looking for something he has lost. Instead of thinking he left it somewhere, he is convinced that person Y has taken it. X is so convinced of this that he will not even look for the object. Instead, he badgers person Y for the location of said object.

In another example, person X is sitting in the rear of a vehicle. He feels cold. The temperature for the rear of the vehicle is controlled by a panel of buttons immediately in front of X. Instead of changing the temperature, he gets angry at person Z. His first instinct is to assume that person Z changed the temperature so he would be cold.

This behavior almost reminds me of Capgras syndrome. Person X attributes every negative circumstance to the malevolent intent of another individual, usually someone close to him he fears or sees as oppressive. He thinks of most people around him this way, and he sees himself as their victim. X responds this way to everything: lost items, a hamburger served differently than he ordered it, tripping and getting hurt, changes in cellular reception while driving along a freeway, etc. While some of these may be someone's fault, he attributes fault to the wrong person.

Is there a name for this type of behavior?

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    $\begingroup$ You describe a causal attribution error, it is present in numerous mental disorders (less frequently occurs in any person) only with such data is impossible to know. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ There may still be many disorders, (or depending on the circumstances not to be a disorder), is a symptom and from a single symptom can not be concluded. This phenomenon does not have to be about a person, for example someone can leave the house and seeing a public work think that is to annoy him, or think that a storm is to annoy him (real cases). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD The Freudian background you added was nowhere in the original post. This edit assumes the OP is aware about, and interested in the question being framed as such. In my opinion, this edit changes the question too drastically. The reason we expect references to prior research is not just for the sake of adding it, it is because this indicates the current understanding of the OP (thus the level of depth an answer should go into) as well as the framing of it (theories on which it is based). $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ @StevenJeuris I understand. I just prefer to improve the question over closing them. Closing questions is easy. Making them great is the challenge. -1 $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ @StevenJeuris Thank you! I’ll take a look around. My knowledge is somewhat limited, but the paranoia and assumption that everyone in your life has malicious intent are what remind me of Capgras. $\endgroup$
    – Zenon
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 13:58

1 Answer 1


I thing what you are looking for is scapegoating :

Scapegoating is the practice of singling out any party for unmerited negative treatment or blame as a scapegoat. Scapegoating may be conducted by individuals against individuals (e.g. "he did it, not me!"), individuals against groups (e.g., "I couldn't see anything because of all the tall people"), groups against individuals (e.g., "Jane was the reason our team didn't win"), and groups against groups.

A scapegoat may be an adult, child, sibling, employee, peer, ethnic, political or religious group, or country.


Unwanted thoughts and feelings can be unconsciously projected onto another who becomes a scapegoat for one's own problems. This concept can be extended to projection by groups. In this case the chosen individual, or group, becomes the scapegoat for the group's problems.

Hostile Attribution Bias is another possibility, defined as the tendency to interpret the behaviour of another as having hostile intent even when the behaviour is ambiguous, neutral or benign.

References :

  • Roy F. Baumeister & Kathleen D. Vohs, 2007, Encyclopedia of Social Psychology
  • Berkowitz and Green, 1962, the stimulus qualities of the scapegoat, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 7, 202-207
  • Gemmill, G., 1998, The dynamics of scapegoating in small groups, Small Group Behavior, 20, 406-418

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