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New Study Links Comedians and Psychosis

Comics surveyed apparently showed ‘high levels of psychotic characteristics’

Stephanie Butnick
January 21, 2014


A new study reveals that there may be a link between individuals predisposed to comedy, and those biologically predisposed to traits relating to psychosis, the Guardian reports. Researchers behind the study, in which 523 comedians from the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia were surveyed, reported that comedians presented “high levels of psychotic characteristics,” particularly schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as compared to those people surveyed who work in non-creative occupations.

“The creative elements needed to produce humour are strikingly similar to those characterising the cognitive style of people with psychosis – both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” said Professor Gordon Claridge from Oxford University’s department of experimental psychology. He is also one of the three co-authors of the findings, which are published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

“Although schizophrenic psychosis itself can be detrimental to humour, in its lesser form it can increase people’s ability to associate odd or unusual things or to think ‘outside the box’. Equally, ‘manic thinking’, which is common in people with bipolar disorder, may help people combine ideas to form new, original and humorous connections,” Claridge added.

This is only the latest addition to age-old ponderings about the nature of creativity, and its potential relationship to other, darker proclivities. This particular study cites the late British comic Spike Milligan, who suffered from manic depression, as an example backing up their findings. While small, and a bit difficult to digest, the study is certainly compelling. Hopefully participating comedians who showed higher levels of psychotic traits can at least work the survey into their acts.

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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