Anthrocon 2013

The IARP is regularly asked (by furries and non-furries alike) a question along the lines of this:

“What’s the deal with furries?”

More often than not, we are happy to explain that furries are a diverse group of artists, cosplayers, writers, gamers, and people with spiritual beliefs – to name just a few – whose interests all manifest – in one form or another – around the concept of anthropomorphism: giving human traits to animals (or zoomorphism – giving animal traits to humans).

This is often followed up with a question, just as often from furries as from non-furries:

“Yeah, but what’s the deal with them? Are they crazy?”

Over the last few years, the IARP has repeatedly shown – through surveys conducted on samples of hundreds of furries at a time – that while the furry fandom may indeed contain strange content and a few quirky personalities, it is not associated with any significant decrements in well-being (psychological, physical, or relationship), self-esteem, or sense of identity.

Recently, our team has been interested in understanding why the furry fandom is so frequently associated with dysfunction in popular culture and lay theory. One possibility lies in the history of clinical lycanthropy, an extremely scattered and disorganized literature in which, generally speaking, symptoms of lycanthropy (that is, hallucinations and beliefs that one is able to or has transformed into an animal – usually a wolf), are associated with psychological dysfunction.

As a result of the clinical lycanthropy literature, as well as popular culture, linking anthropomorphism / zoomorphism with dysfunction and pathology, we believe that people may mistakenly come to associate the furry fandom – and therians in particular, who associate themselves quite strongly with their token species (a totem animal, spirit guide, manifestation of their persona, etc…) – with dysfunction

As such, at Anthrocon 2013 we included a number of questions that specifically assessed symptoms frequently associated with clinical lycanthropy, as well as numerous scales which assessed various indicators of physical and psychological well-being. In total, 820 Anthrocon 2013 attendees over the age of 18 completed the survey while at Anthrocon.  As always, given the vast amount of data, we are presenting only a subset of the findings here. As always, if you have questions, would like to know more, have suggestions for other analyses, please contact us (see the link on the sidebar).

All data are presented here in aggregate (summarized) form, and there is absolutely NO identifying information in the data. Data were collected in the strictest of confidence and are anonymous: we are unable to trace responses back to the original participants. Any unique responses that were reported in open-ended formats are not reported here in order to protect the anonymity of participants.

For those interested in statistics, basic summary statistics and the out puts of various analyses are included, where possible, in the presentation of this summary (e.g., t-tests, ANOVAs, regressions, means). You do not need to understand the statistics in order for the summary to make sense – they are included for the sake of those who have a knack for stats and who want to know a little more about the technical side of our research.

Summary of Questions:

Q1: Is being furry associated with any psychological conditions?

Q2: Do furries “think differently”?

Q3: Were there therians in your sample?

Q1: Is being furry associated with any psychological conditions?

Given the existing stereotype that furries must somehow be associated with, or a manifestation of, an existing psychological conditions, we decided to empirically test this assertion in a particularly straightforward manner: participants were asked to indicate whether or not they had been diagnosed with a physical or psychological condition, whether or not they had been prescribed psychotropic medication, and, in an open-ended fashion, to write down what, if any, diagnoses they had ever received from a certified clinician (not self-diagnosed or a hunch, but a diagnosis from a trained practitioner).

For the purpose of this analysis, “being a furry” was assessed using a 7-point scale which asked participants to indicate the extent (1 – Not at all, 7 – Very strongly) to which they identified themselves as being furry. Given that the vast majority of our participants were furry, and the problem of locating a suitable control group at Anthrocon 2013, we decided to use this scale as a measure (albeit conservative) of involvement in the furry fandom.

The data found no relationship between strength of identification with the furry fandom and any medical conditions (e.g. respiratory, pulmonary, cancer, etc…).

Additionally, there was no relationship between being a furry and being prescribed psychotropic medication. 37.3% of furries did report having ever been on some form of psychotropic medication; it is difficult to compare this number to the general population, given the lack of definitive statistics on the subject. However, this number is not believed to significantly differ from that of the general population.

9.2% of furries report having been diagnosed with ADHD. Interestingly, the prevalence rate of ADHD in the general population is estimated to be between 2-16%, suggesting that furries do not differ significantly from the general population. There was a trending relationship between the strength of identification with the furry fandom and ADHD (B = .062, p = .090), but this relationship, if it exists at all, is exceptionally weak. Put another way, being a furry is not strongly associated with ADHD, and therefore not a product of people with this condition.

6.1% of furries reported having some form of anxiety disorder (e.g., social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc…). In the general population the prevalence of anxiety disorders is estimated to be approximately 30%. As such, furries are not strongly associated with anxiety disorders, a conclusion strengthened by the finding that strength of furry identification was not found to be related to self-reporting an anxiety disorder.

16.1% of furries reported currently having (or having formerly been diagnosed with) depression or bipolar disorder, a number very comparable to the estimated general population frequency of 17%. This suggests that being a furry is not associated with (and thus not caused by – or the cause of) mood disorders. In fact, there was a negative relationship between strength of furry identification and mood disorders, such that being a furry predicted lower rates of diagnosis (B = -.091, p = .013), though, again, this is a relatively small relationship.

Perhaps most interesting, however, was the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (in particular, Asperger’s Syndrome, or high-functioning autism) within the furry fandom. Approximately 4% of participants indicated that they had been diagnosed of Asperger’s Syndrome. Given that estimates of the prevalence rate of Asperger’s Syndrome in the general population differ immensely, it is difficult to know exactly how much more prevalent this condition is in the furry fandom than the general population. However, the most conservative estimates suggest that, based on the obtained data, furries are at least 2.25 times more likely to have Asperger’s Syndrome than the general population, even after controlling for different sex ratios in the furry fandom. Additionally, there was a small, but significant positive relationship between the extent to which participants identified as being furry and having Asperger’s Syndrome (B = .083, p = .023).

In sum, generally speaking, there is little relationship between furries and clinical diagnoses of psychological dysfunction. Across a number of different conditions, furries did not differ significantly from the general population with regard to the prevalence of psychological conditions. In those instances where there were significant differences, they tended to be particularly small effects. Furthermore, follow-up analyses have suggested that identification with the furry fandom, despite any relationships to psychological conditions, nonetheless is marginally associated with psychological and relationship well-being (B = .062-.063, p = .083-.079). As such, it is incorrect to define or “try to explain furries” by the presence of any particular psychological condition or through any type of psychological dysfunction.

Q2: Do furries “think differently”?

In addition to the presence or absence of psychological conditions, the IARP was interested in whether being furry was associated with different types of thinking. In particular, a number of differences in cognitive style were assessed, including measures of magical thinking, aberrant salience (belief in increased cognitive or sensory faculties), hallucinations, and mental “shifting”.

Participants who more strongly identified themselves as furries also possessed more magical beliefs and ideation (B = .139, p< .001).

Participants who more strongly identified themselves as furries scored higher on a measure of aberrant salience (B = .182, p<.001), including stronger feelings of significance in the world and events around them, an increased understanding (or impending understanding), sharper/heightened senses, cognitive abilities, and emotions.

Participants more strongly identifying themselves as furries reported having more vivid mental events such as thoughts or mental images (B = .169, p<.001), and were more likely to experience hallucinations – sensations and perceptions of non-real stimuli (B = .157, p < .001).

There was no relationship between the extent to which participants identified themselves as furries and their experience of “shifts” – physical, mental, or otherwise.

In general, these data suggest that furries may have particularly active, vivid, and magical mental worlds, and that such factors may contribute to (or be caused by) the extent to which a person identifies themselves as furry. It is worth noting that these items are often thought of with regard to psychological dysfunction (e.g. belief in magic or overly vivid mental imagery may be associated with delusion). That said, the lack of relationship between identification with furries and psychological well-being and dissociative or hallucinatory disorder and, in fact, slight relationship between furry identity and well-being may suggest that despite having particularly active, somewhat aberrant, vivid, and fantastical mental worlds, furries nonetheless seem comparatively well-adjusted.

Q3: Were there therians in your sample?

In order to assess furries and therians with regard to the scales mentioned above, it is essential that our sample contains a large enough number of therians to be able to be able to generalize to the broader Therian population. The current sample contained 67 therians (approximately 8% Therian). This number is comparable, if a bit low, to our previous findings regarding the prevalence of Therians within the furry fandom.