Researchers find young adults with unusual thinking and behavior (schizotypy) exhibit higher rhythmic sensitivity and overall musical talent.
- Young adults with schizotypal personalities display higher auditory timing perceptual abilities compared to those without schizotypal traits.
- Those with a schizotypal personality scored better on a musical aptitude exam compared to their age and education-matched counterparts.
- The findings suggest that schizotypal individuals have more musical talent than their peers.
Rock music legends Syd Barret of Pink Floyd and the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson experienced psychotic breaks at different points during their careers. Moreover, on average, musicians and artists score higher on tests measuring schizotypy – schizophrenia-like personality traits that engender unusual thinking and behavior – than the general population. Schizotypal personalities fall below the severity of full-blown schizophrenia, but those with schizotypy are thought to possess a genetically inherited risk for schizophrenia. While people with schizophrenia exhibit musical intelligence deficiencies, less is known about schizotypal individuals who fall within the less severe end of the schizophrenia spectrum.
As published in Comprehensive Psychiatry, Ye and colleagues from Fujian Normal University in China found for the first time a correlation between college students scoring high on tests measuring schizotypy and scoring well on tests of musical aptitude. The China-based research team assessed 66 students and found that young adults with schizotypal personality traits displayed higher sensitivity to differences in musical tone duration. What’s more, as measured with a musical intelligence test, those with schizotypal traits displayed a higher sensitivity to contour – the melodic direction of pitches – and rhythm. The study’s findings demonstrate that those with schizotypal personalities may have more musical talent compared to their age and education-matched counterparts.
A Correlation Exists Between Schizotypal Traits and Higher Musical Aptitude
Since not much is known about the musical abilities of those with schizotypal traits, Ye and colleagues utilized a musical exam to determine schizotypal individuals’ musical aptitude. They found an elevated capacity to distinguish tone durations and silent, white noise durations in schizotypal individuals compared to their peers. However, there were no significant differences in the ability to identify the highest pitch tone or an inserted tone within a tone sequence. These findings indicate that schizotypal individuals have superior time-based auditory perceptual abilities compared to their peers.
To further investigate how schizotypal individuals’ musical abilities compare to others, Ye and colleagues administered another musical intelligence test – the Montreal Battery of Evaluation of Amusia (MBEA). In this exam, schizotypal individuals scored significantly better for contour – the ability to discriminate the direction of pitch sequences in a melody – and rhythm. These results provide further evidence for schizotypal individuals’ higher musical aptitude.
The study’s results suggest that young adults with schizotypal personality traits have better musical intelligence than their age and education-matched peers. Since Ye and colleagues compared the schizotypy group to individuals with the same level of musical education, the schizotypy group’s higher scores likely came from inherent talent.
Musical Therapy for those at Risk of Developing Schizophrenia
This begs the question of why schizotypal individuals may have more inherent musical talent than their peers. Ye and colleagues propose that an as-yet unexplored neurological mechanism may compensate for the auditory perceptual dysfunction associated with a propensity for schizophrenia. If this proposal holds true, this means that musical therapy may help ward off full-blown schizophrenia in young adults at risk for this debilitating illness.
Researchers studying the link between madness and genius have tried to tie a predisposition for mental illness with creativity. The population of people with schizotypy may help them study this possible association since they don’t show the debilitating, full-blown schizophrenia symptoms. The findings that schizotypal individuals may have more musical talent also suggests that researchers can turn to the auditory perception domain to delineate how schizophrenia develops and manifests.
Article Author: Brett J. Weiss
Deng J, Zheng X, Zhu C, Lin Z, Ye Y. Auditory acuity and musical ability in young adults with high schizotypal traits. Compr Psychiatry. 2022 Jan 31;114:152297. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2022.152297. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35123176.