From time to time, furries face mental health problems. But does fandom involvement hurt - as professionals sometimes suggest - or help? One man aims to find out.
This research is seeking to investigate how members of the furry community cope with stressors and mental health issues and whether being a member of the furry community can be a protective factor against stress. We also want to investigate how a person’s fursona/furry identity and their actual identity interact and any differences/similarities between them.
While questions about fursonas are included, any resulting discussions are to be limited to general trends due to concern over identifiability. The survey should take less than an hour. As a bonus, participants (16+ only) may enter a drawing for one of three US$25 Amazon vouchers.
Preceding research: Survey suggests furries 'think differently', but aren't crazy (by the ARP).
Kevin Hsu is a sexology researcher based at Northwestern University on the outskirts of Chicago. In 2013 he sought, and received, approval from the Northwestern Institution Review Board (IRB) – an ethics committee that oversees research with human subjects – to study furries.
Hsu's research is intended to follow work published by Dr. Anne Lawrence in 2009, which references furries as a group possibly displaying a hypothetical phenomenon associated with fetishistic behaviour named "Erotic Target Location Error". Hsu's hypothesis is that many furries – possibly most – are zoophiles, where that attraction manifests as the furry identity and in activities such as fursuiting, and that furries can therefore be classified as "autozoophiles".
If you were waiting for a coffee-table book mixing fursuiting and cultural research, Furries: Enacting Animal Anthropomorphism might be it. It was created by Romanian Carmen Dobre, a Master in both cultural studies (Univ. of Bucharest) and photographic studies (Leiden), who is pursuing a PhD at the Bucharest National University of Arts. [tip: Dr. Kathy Gerbasi]
The 152 page hardback contains 49 photographs, 13 of which can be previewed online (scroll in for a full view). Produced by the University of Plymouth, it's also available from eBay UK or Australia, Amazon U.S. or Canada, Albris, and Fishpond.
Carmen's furry photography began in Holland as a university project, and spread to France, Romania, Germany, and the UK (assisted by Fotonow CIC). Her work was exhibited September-October 2011 (video) at the Rue de l'Exposition gallery. One photo was a finalist for the 2013 Celeste Prize. She has also created a brief study of furry fandom (PDF).
Recently published survey results suggest there is "little relationship between furries and clinical diagnoses of psychological dysfunction". However, those identifying more strongly as furries tended to report "particularly active, vivid and magical mental worlds", and furries (at ~4%) were "at least 2.25 times more likely to have Asperger's Syndrome" than the general population, even after controlling for different sex ratios.
Being furry was not associated with anxiety disorders or medical conditions; indeed, it was "marginally associated with psychological and relationship well-being" (B=.062-3, p=.083-.079). Furries identifying as therians did not differ from non-therian furries on measurements of most psychological conditions, well-being or health, but differed in several cognitive factors, and were more likely to have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder (B=.099, p=.008).
The survey was conducted at Anthrocon 2013 by the Anthropomorphic Research Project. Researchers gave 820 adult participants questions that "assessed symptoms frequently associated with clinical lycanthropy, as well as numerous scales which assessed various indicators of physical and psychological well-being", with the goal of "understanding why the furry fandom is so frequently associated with dysfunction in popular culture and lay theory".
Ben Walker, a British undergraduate student at Keele University in Staffordshire, is conducting research on the design of online social spaces. He has created a brief survey for members of the fandom and is seeking candidates for interviews and focus groups.
[The] point of this research is to aid the design of online social spaces. If forums and community sites can be made to fit their communities better, the experience users get from them improves.
This project combines my two degree subjects, Computer Science and Geography (the human centric stuff) with the aim of utilising both to provide some tangible benefits to online communities. Being on the edge of the fandom I thought looking at Furries would be more interesting.
Members of the Anthropomorphic Research Project have launched a new online survey about fursonas, to answer "questions furries (and psychologists alike) have been asking", covering the relationship between:
[…] furries and their fursonas, including the perceived functions of fursonas, the ways they manifest themselves for different furries, and the extent to which furries see their fursonas as being similar or different from their own personality.
Participants, who must be 18 or over, have the option to enter a draw for a $50 Amazon gift certifiate in return for the 20-30 minute survey. The group is also running reaction time tests at Anthrocon 2013 in the Westin on Friday and Saturday, focused on how furs see:
[…] the complex relationship between human beings and animals on this planet.
The team is still signing participants up for their existing longitudinal survey.
Surveying furries for psych and demographic research is a well established interest. Canada recently gave out a $75,000 grant for it. But has anyone ever tried to measure the "furry economy"? I'm talking about spending by fans, companies and creators that serve them, and markets for their work.
I think the data could make interesting news, help creators and professionals, and it already has notable indicators calling for attention. Consider the strong growth in con attendance for over a decade, and the Furry interest that brought surprise success to adult crowdfunding site Offbeatr. I'm drawn to furry by fursuiting, and I've noticed a leap in quality over time that shows development of that specialized craft. On the other hand, some have seen a big decline in spending at con art shows that points to changing times. In the interest of informing the "Furrysphere" (is it a hairball?), here's a few thoughts on measuring the "furry economy".
- 78% of females and 96% of males report viewing furry porn. Both groups underestimated both figures by 8-12%.
- Increasing furriness indicated a tendency to use fantasy for various purposes, including escapism, but didn't indicate blurring of reality, or an inability to have fun, self-motivate, fulfil needs, socialize, or cope with problems without fantasy.
- Female furs had less sexual roleplay, owned less pornography, viewed it less frequently, and felt it had less influence on their joining the fandom. They also saw pornography as more openly discussed within the fandom.
- Furries overestimated the positivity of both male and female furs towards furry porn: males tended to be positive or mixed, while over 20% of females had a negative view. 51% of furs preferred porn over general furry artwork; 17% had the opposite view. ~55% saw non-furry pornography in a negative light; some males only view furry porn.
- Non-brony furs rated bronies less positively (50) than furries (79) or non-furs (61).
- Furries are very liberal on social matters, but more moderate on economic topics.
- Therians anthropomorphise animals more than non-therian furs; those strongly identifying as furries gave human characteristics to both regular and stuffed animals.
Around half of those participating chose to join the group's three-year longitudinal study.
My first story for Flayrah was about Oscar, the first cat to get prosthetic limbs. Only one line – it was before Newsbytes were added – but the feline Oscar remains a good role model. (Unfortunately, the human Oscar, my fellow South African, multiple gold-winning Paralympian and first amputee to compete in the able-bodied Olympics, dropped the ball in that regard.)
There are many other examples of animals with prosthetics. Perhaps the most notable would be Winter, a dolphin with a prosthetic tail. In 2011, her story was adapted into a feature film, Dolphin Tail. Moving from a cat to her demonstrates the breadth of animals that these tools and surgeries are helping.
Sorry to interrupt fun stories about comics and cartoons, but the Anthropomorphic Research Project story suggests some want to know what furryness means. Let me throw in a topic sharing an abstract concept with the fandom.
Anthropomorphism is often imagined from our human point of view (attaching human characteristics to something non-human). But the concept can exist apart from ourselves, when animals see themselves in objects. The way it works for them can reveal more about us.
Harry Harlow was a psychologist who experimented with monkeys. In the 1950's and 60's, he gave his subjects "surrogate" mothers built from different objects, to see how they would behave, and learn about care-giving and companionship in social and cognitive development. PBS says about his famous experiment:
He took infant monkeys away from their real mothers, giving them instead two artificial mothers, one model made of wire and the other made of cloth. The wire model was outfitted with a bottle to feed the baby monkey. But the babies rarely stayed with the wire model longer than it took to get the necessary food. They clearly preferred cuddling with the softer cloth model, especially if they were scared. (When the cloth model had the bottle, they didn't go to the wire model at all.)
Participants (who must be 18 or older) may enter a drawing to win a $50 Amazon.com certificate for each survey completed.
Questions will vary between each survey, but will generally pertain to different aspects of furry culture, sexual orientation, personality, well-being, recreational/fantasy activities, and attitudes/beliefs about topical issues (e.g. religion, politics).
The ARP has previously used surveys to distinguish furries from therians and otherkin, identify personality differences between non-furs, furries and their fursonas, and characterise the relationship between furries and bronies.
Many findings revolved around the involvement of bronies in furry fandom:
- The 23.5% of furries also identifying as bronies did not significantly differ from other furries in most respects; they reported greater experience of bullying, slightly worse physical health, and appeared to have a slightly less-formed sense of identity
- Bronies in furry fandom had been part of the fandom for longer than the average fur
- Furries who thought bronies were also furries had a higher opinion of them; some furs dismissed them as obnoxious, a fad, or immature, or had problems with specific bronies
In addition, the larger non-furry sample made it possible to make several general findings:
- Furries tend to be more liberal and 'global citizens' than non-furs; most are not religious
- Furries know more about animals ... but could occasionally be over-confident about it
- Furries were three times less likely to consider themselves exclusively heterosexual than non-furries, four to five times more likely to say they were exclusively homosexual, and far more likely to report bisexuality or orientations such as pansexuality or asexuality
- Furries reported a greater history of physical and verbal bullying than non-furries
- Furries did not differ significantly to American non-furs with regard to psychological or relationship health, or self-esteem, but had a more-developed sense of self and identity
The analysis also refined earlier findings about therians, identified popular furry websites and artists, and introduced a scale to distinguish between "healthy fantasy engagement" (which furs had significantly more of than non-furs) and "unhealthy fantasy" (which they did not).
A new ten-minute survey has been released, aimed at furry fans 18 and older.
The survey, which contains "items on personality, personal life, and basic demographics", was created to support research at University College Cork in Ireland, and is intended to "gather data on the kinds of people that make up the furry community":
The use of the internet to support a shared interest and activity is very interesting to me, and I also am curious about the more sexual side to the fandom.
My study will attempt to determine two things - 1) Who are the furries? (assessed by simple demographics) and 2) What is the place of the Furry fandom in the context of the existing literature on internet behaviours?
It was initially distributed on Inkbunny, where a researcher has been answering questions.
Fursonas get furs "closer to norms"; unlike therians, most furs don't want to be "0% human".
Researchers confirmed past survey results, while investigating:
- personality differences between non-furs, furs and fursonas
- furries' impressions of non-furry perceptions of the fandom
- whether furs felt their fandom was distinct from anime
- whether furries felt entitled towards content creators
- whether certain fan activities were healthy or unhealthy
- levels of pet ownership, vegetarianism, and association with animal rights causes
- reasons for male-domination of and stigma towards the fandom
- other differences between furries, non-furries and therians
The 32-country survey covered 1,098 adults (951 furs, 104 non-furs); 152 were therians.