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Schizophrenia is a continuum, and most of us are closer to the odd end than we might like to think. In fact, psychologists have long defined lots of behaviors and beliefs as “schizotypal,” meaning schizophrenia-prone, that many folks might not think twice about. One particular category of schizotypal beliefs is that of magical ideation.

As P.E. Meehl defined it in 1964, magical ideation is a “belief, quasi-belief, or semi-serious entertainment of the possibility that events which—according to causal concepts of this culture—cannot have a causal relation with each other, might somehow nevertheless do.”

Judging from e2’s magical content, I think we might skew high.

Psychologists hoping to identify such beliefs for research need a way to measure the degree of magical ideation, and in 1983 that's just what Mark Eckblad and Loren J. Chapman at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, did with their publication of “Magical Ideation as an Indicator of Schizotypy” in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. They developed a test which could be administered to subjects to find out where on the spectrum they might sit between, say, Richard Dawkins and Stevie Nicks. They also iterated and tested their test to show that it reasonably predicts future psychosis. The test was replicated and validated in 1997 by researchers at the same university. It is still in use today as one of the most regarded tests for magical ideation, and has come to be known as the Magical Ideation Scale.

The 30-question questionnaire asks the subject to label each statement as true or false. Based on comparison to an answer sheet, subjects are given a scale from 0-30, with zero being Baywatch and 30 being Bewitched. In the original sample set, 0-3 was unusually linear. 4-12 was normal for males, and 4-15 was normal for females. Above that is considered unusually schizotypal.

I emailed the authors and asked permission to post the whole test, but I was asked not to, as publishing it here would lessen its validity as a tool. But following are a few examples that range between the odd to the extreme:

    2. I have had the momentary feeling that I might not be human.
      5. Horoscopes are right too often for it to be a coincidence.
      8. I have occasionally had the silly feeling that a TV or radio broadcaster knew I was listening to him.
    24. If reincarnation were true, it would explain some unusual experiences I have had.

In general, the questions aim to identify whether the subject experiences, through magical beliefs, one of the seven main schizophrenic dissociations:

  • Thought-broadcasting
  • Passivity (being directly controlled)
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Thought-withdrawal (having thoughts removed from the head)
  • Aberrant beliefs
  • Visual Hallucinations
  • Thought-reading

I'm not a test designer, but the language of the questions is sometimes a little loose for my taste. Sometimes the statements seem like they were made negative just so there would be some false answers, and that makes those statements unnecessarily hard to consider. Sometimes the sloppy language makes the question not fit the true/false sort of answer. For example, I pride myself on being a very grounded person, yet I could interpret some of these questions in the schizotypal way. For instance, question #24 is clearly structured in an if-then fashion, and, if I accepted the protasis, then yes, the apodosis follows. But, outside of that question, I don't accept the protasis, so how should it be answered? Per the actual language or per my guess about the question's intention? There are lots of tricky issues of interpretation like this that you could levy on other questions as well. Fortunately, the test captures this “slop” with an average mean higher than 0, because it's all relative to cultural norms of the sample set. That's good, because it covers the looseness of language and cultural norms. But it feels a little unnerving to have such a relative scale on something as important as your connection to reality.

Even in Meehl's definition, "normal" magical ideation and schizotypy are defined by the context, and that changes with geography, time, and subculture. For example, in the original report Eckblad and Chapman arbitrarily excuse their own culture when defining "passivity experiences". They describe these experiences as "ranging from a subject's belief that a person or force other than God, the devil, an angel, or spirits seized control of his or her body or mind..." (Italics my own.) From naturalist perspective, there's no reason to excuse these agents at all. Possession by "the devil" seems just as out of touch with reality as possession by a dryad or a Martian.

So, yes, the edges of "in touch with reality" and "looney tunes" are a little muddy, but if psychologists are going to study these things, they have to start somewhere. And until someone comes up with a better test than this, this is how we'll be measuring up.


Sources

  • Meehl, P.E. Manual for use with checklist of schizotypic signs. Unpublished manuscript, University of Minnesota, 1964
  • Eckblad, M. & Chapman, L. J. (1983). Magical ideation as an indicator of schizotypy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 95, 111-125.
  • To get a copy of the test (and the answer key) contact the American Psychological Association at http://www.apa.org/
    (Apparently the APA has taken it down from their site. Now I don't know where you can get a copy, other than me.)

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