Willingness to accept extraordinary social roles predicts schizophrenia-like symptoms

Research published in the journal NPJ Schizophrenia suggests there is a link between an individual’s drive to fulfill extraordinary social roles and schizophrenia.

The study of 209 healthy volunteers found a positive association between extraordinary roles — such as being an astronaut, bandit, prophet or slave — and schizophrenia-like symptoms. In other words, the more extraordinary roles a person was willing to engage in, the higher their schizotypy scores tended to be.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, J. Bruno Debruille of McGill University. Read his responses below:

PsyPost:Why were you interested in this topic?

Debruille: Paranoid schizophrenia patients very frequently mentions extraordinary roles. They obviously occupy a central place in their mind. It was important to check whether this was something they just talk about or whether, as embodied cognition theories would suggest, they would actually be interested in performing these roles more than people with less schizophrenia traits would.

What should the average person take away from your study?

1) That strong desires to play roles that are too different from each other can induce behavioral disorganization.

2) That traits of schizotypy and, hence symptoms of schizophrenia, are due not only to genes and neurodevelopment but also to macro-and micro-culturally embrained drives.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

1) A major caveat of the study is the use of social roles common to all participants. Using roles that are found appealing for each individual and taking into account the strength of the desire to play each of them could dramatically increase the power of the test.

2) Correlations are not causes. Schizotypy could be responsible for an ability at harboring conflictual roles.

On the other hand, this ability can be successful in some. Many people manage to play opposite roles, as caricaturally pictured in movies focusing on mafia bosses and showing people who are both good fathers and merciless criminals, one can also think of sects’ leaders, or of some politics (e.g., Pol Pot).

Is there anything else you would like to add?

1) That the so-called negative symptoms of schizophrenia, which are mainly characterized by a lack of drives, and which is often seen after a paranoid phase, might be related to the end of a competition between contradictory roles, which would have destroyed each other.

2) That antipsychotic medications could act by suppressing the drive to play social roles, hence their major tranquilizing effect.

The study, “Embrained drives to perform extraordinary roles predict schizotypal traits in the general population“, was also co-authored by Ana L Fernandez-Cruz, Ola Mohamed Ali, Gifty Asare, Morgan S Whyte, Ishan Walpola, and Julia Segal.