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"Their talent to amuse people lies in having unusual personalities and displaying what researchers say are high levels of psychotic characteristics, according to findings which appear to support the widely held belief of a link between madness and creativity."
I read the coverage of this study with particular interest because I was busy working on a questionnaire with Dr Oliver Mason of UCL aimed at investigating psychotic traits in poets, a questionnaire modelled closely on Ando et al's research.
In our study, we used an online survey based on that of Ando et al with the addition of the Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ: Hirschfeld, 2000) which diagnoses bipolar disorder by self-report if seven or more symptoms are endorsed as occurring at the same time, and as causing ‘moderate-to-severe’ problems.
The O-LIFE and MDQ questionnaires we used were combined with a series of questions designed to ask how long participants had been writing for, where their work had been published (if at all) and which 'styles' of poetry they thought their work had an affinity with - these categories were not mutually-exclusive so people could pick more than one.
Thanks to the 294 poets who took part in the questionnaire, we have just been able to publish the results in the Cambridge Journal of Psychological Medicine and you can read all about our findings here.
Of the range of self-reported types of poetry, over two thirds of our participants (70.4%) endorsed a ‘lyric’ style, over half (58.2%) a ‘narrative’ style, and around a third (31%) an ‘avant garde’ style (again, these were not mutually exclusive categories). In terms of self-reported diagnosed mental illness, two poets reported schizophrenia, 15 reported bipolar disorder (5.1%), 152 reported depression (51.7%) and 80 reported anxiety disorder (27.2%).
We found that, in our sample, poets showed a high level of psychotic personality traits consistent with several other studies of creative groups (Nowakowska et al.2005; Nettle, 2006; Kyaga et al.2011). They did so both on indicators of the positive symptoms of psychosis and on self-reported symptoms of bipolar disorder. In particular, the endorsement of an 'avant-garde' style of poetry was associated with higher scores for Unusual Experiences.
To understand the context of these findings, I'd recommend reading the full article here.
Thank you very much to everyone who took part and gave up their time to complete or share the questionnaire. We hope our survey provides starting points for other discussions and research.