Introduction. Stress sensitisation may play a key role in the formation of psychosis. The authors examined whether metacognitive beliefs and self-esteem moderate affective response to stress, and whether subtle fluctuations in self-esteem act as a mediator between stress and attenuated psychotic phenomena. Method. 70 healthy volunteers completed two conditions of the same experimental tasks, which were designed to be either neutral or stress inducing. Ambulant assessments of negative affect, self-esteem, and suspicious thoughts were taken before and after each task, and standardised questionnaires were completed at the beginning or end of each session. Results. Metacognitive belief subscales, but not self-esteem, moderated the association between stress and resultant negative affect, and negative affect and suspicious thinking. Individuals who placed greater emphasis on controlling their thoughts had greater variability in their self-esteem during the stress condition, which in turn predicted the severity of their attenuated psychotic phenomena. Discussion. Metacognitive beliefs may sensitise an individual to minor stressors, by increasing affective reactivity and causing subtle shifts in appraisals of self-worth. Psychosocial intervention may wish to target these beliefs in order to desensitise an individual to negative events. © 2011 Copyright Psychology Press.