Research carried out by the University of Oxford and Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust claims that personality traits seen in comedians, and other creative types, are similar to traits of people who experience psychosis.
The study tested 523 comedians – 404 men and 119 women – whom were asked to fill out an online questionnaire in which four aspects were examined that help ascertain whether healthy people bare psychotic traits: unusual experiences (belief in telepathy and paranormal events), cognitive disorganisation (distractibility and difficulty in focusing thoughts), introvertive anhedonia (reduced ability to feel social and physical pleasure, including an avoidance of intimacy) and impulsive non-conformity (tendency towards impulsive, antisocial behaviour).
The researchers' findings were that, compared to the general test group, comedians scored significantly higher on all four types of psychotic personality traits than the general group, with particularly high scores for both extroverted and introverted personality traits.
It is this combination of aspects that the researchers believe may help comedians to entertain. As Prof. Gordon Claridge, from the University of Oxford's Experimental Psychology department explains:
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.
Comedians tend to be slightly withdrawn, introverted people who may not always want to socialise, and their comedy is almost an outlet for that. It's a kind of self-medication
The findings are certainly interesting, but by no means conclusive in creating a link between two seemingly disparate elements of character. As suggested by James McCabe from the Institute of Psychiatry:
Psychosis is not a problem with personality, it's a more severe disorder than that. People with psychosis and schizophrenia have a very impaired ability to appreciate humorous material.
This study tells us some interesting things about the differences between comedians and actors but not about the link with psychosis."