Friday, 9 December 2005

Virile artists to blame for schizophrenia's prevalence?

Artists and poets who have an embryonic form of schizophrenia called ‘schizotypy’ are responsible for the illness not dying out despite the fact that people with full-blown schizophrenia are far less likely to have children than healthy people. That’s according to Daniel Nettle and Helen Keenoo who believe prevalence rates for schizophrenia remain relatively constant at around one per cent of the population because of the superior mating success of creative people who are schizotypic.

Nettle and Keenoo asked a sample of 425 people – including 96 recruited via adverts in art and poetry publications – to complete several questionnaires. One measured schizotypy, another asked how many sexual partners they’d had, while creativity was indicated by whether each participant was uninvolved in art, had it as a hobby, was an amateur or professional. The schizotypy questionnaire tapped four dimensions: unusual perceptual experiences and magical thinking; difficulties concentrating; violent and reckless behaviours; and ‘introvertive anhedonia’, which is an inability to enjoy oneself combined with social withdrawal.

Nettle and Keenoo found that participants who had more unusual thoughts and perceptions tended to be more creative, and in turn, people who were more creative tended to report having more sexual partners. They said this showed that in some people, schizotypic traits can manifest as creativity, which in turn is associated with more sexual partners, thus propagating schizophrenia-related genes.

They also found that a tendency towards violence or recklessness was directly related to having more sexual partners. Meanwhile, introvertive anhedonia, which the authors said schizophrenia sufferers score highly on but artists and poets do not, was associated with fewer sexual partners. Indeed, Nettle and Keenoo suggested that artists and poets “are differentiated from patients only by their low scores on introvertive anhedonia”.

Nettle, D. & Keenoo, H. (2005). Schizotypy, creativity and mating success in humans. Proceedings of The Royal Society, B. In Press, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2005.3349.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Link to an artist's response in the Guardian

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