About one percent of the population have schizophrenia. We’ve all bumped into them on occasion, talking to themselves in public with no regard to social conventions. And on seeing such a person you may think that there is something really wrong. True that. But you may also think, that guy is nothing like me. That, however, may be a mistake.
Because even though schizophrenia is thought of as a disease of the brain, there is a lot of research to suggest that it’s just the extreme end of normal personality traits. In Big Five terms, those traits would be Introversion, Neuroticism, Openness, and lack of Conscientiousness. Or in terms of the MBTI it would correspond to the INFP personality type – the single most common type at Personality Café.
When a person with these traits show a resemblance to schizophrenia it’s called schizotypy. Typically people with this kind of personality have paranormal experiences, entertain conspiracy theories, are suspicious of others and have a peculiar and disorganized way of thinking. To others, they come off as odd, but not pathologically so.
Research has confirmed that schizotypy is genetically linked to schizophrenia but how this should be interpreted is a matter of dispute. Some psychiatrists say this means that there is a set of personality traits that make a person vulnerable to the disease of schizophrenia, while others say schizophrenia itself is just the extreme end of normal personality traits and that there is nothing pathological about it. Because having problems and being confused is not necessarily the same as being ill.
Personally I agree with the idea that schizophrenia is just a matter of personality. But regardless of that, one thing is clear: the typical thoughts, ideas, and behaviors of a schizophrenic can be found in a large portion of the general population in the form of schizotypy. This is most likely because of the link between schizotypy and creativity that has been found in many studies. Humanity needs creative people like Einstein and Mozart. And we all need some amount of creativity to solve everyday problems. That’s why the gene variants that contribute to schizotypy and schizophrenia have not been weeded out.
So remember the next time you see some guy rambling to himself on the side walk: you may have more in common with him than you think. And when you think about it, he is not a burden to society – he is the guy who is carrying the burden for the rest of us. He is the guy who makes the Einsteins and the Mozarts of this world possible.