Over at Mind Hacks, Vaughan discusses a fascinating new paper on how psychotic delusions take on different manifestations over time:
A Slovenian research team, led by psychiatrist Borut Skodlar, discovered that the Ljubljana psychiatric hospital had patient records going as far back as 1881. They randomly selected 10 records from every 10 year period to see how delusions matched up to the society of the time.
One key finding was that paranoid and persecutory delusions seem much more common now, with a big jump after the 1960s, in line with other studies that have found that paranoia is much more common in the modern age.
Another interesting finding concerned the widespread availability of radio and television.
Here’s a snippet from the paper:
A very interesting finding was a significant increase in outside influence and control delusions with technical themes following the spread of radio and television in Slovenia. To the best of our knowledge, no such studies exist with which to compare our results.
Both of these new technical devices, which served as a means to powerfully and quickly disseminate information, apparently became appropriate for ‘serving’ as a means of influence and control in the eyes of schizophrenia patients.
We found this change much more expressed in the case of television, where the increase of delusions of outside influence and control was dramatic.
The study is an elegant reminder that mental illness is an emulsion of biology and culture. Of course, illnesses like schizophrenia are biological conditions, determined by the errant wiring of the brain, but their content – the particular symptoms that schizophrenics experience – is influenced by the world we live in.