XI. Wellness and Dysfunction
There is a tendency for people to moralize statistical deviance, to assume that those who are different are morally wrong or dysfunctional. It serves a number of protective functions for people, including preserving self-esteem and maintaining a positive self-image in the face of others whose views may be challenging or contrary to one’s own. Because of this, however, there is a tendency for people (furries and non-furries alike) to assume that there is “something wrong” with furries, something reflected in media portrayals and negative stereotypes about furries,🐾 which insist that furries, as a group, need to be explained. Some seek psychological explanations, suggesting that furries may be people with developmental problems or psychological conditions. Others assume situational explanations such as a broken childhood or a tumultuous, friendless, socially awkward childhood. After all, most furries have experienced significant bullying,🐾 and abundant psychological evidence shows that bullying, stigma, and concealed stigmatized identities can be particularly damaging to a person’s well-being. One would therefore expect furries to show evidence of significantly compromised well-being.
Data collected on the well-being of furries suggests otherwise, however. Across several samples, furries and non-furries did not significantly differ from one another on measures of life satisfaction and self-esteem.🐾 Furries did not differ with regard to their physical health, psychological health, or the quality of their relationships, and were actually more likely to have a stable and coherent sense of identity than non-furries.🐾
The well-being of furries was also compared across fandoms (see figures above and below.)🐾 Furries did not differ significantly from convention-going anime fans or fantasy sport fans, and were actually higher in life satisfaction and self-esteem than online anime fans, all groups which experience less stigma than furries do.🐾
Taken together, these data, in conjunction with the rest of the data in Section 11, demonstrate that furries, contrary to popular misconceptions, are surprisingly well-adjusted. It’s worth noting that this lack of difference in well-being occurs despite the fact that most furries have a history of significant bullying. One possible explanation for this is the ameliorating role of the fandom: given that belongingness and acceptance are both important values in the furry fandom,🐾 as is compassion, helping, and global citizenship,🐾 for many furries, the fandom is a source of social support. Social psychologists have long recognized the important role that social support plays in building resilience and fostering well-being, and future studies are planned to test whether this mechanism explains furries’ tendency to thrive despite often enduring significant hardship.
In conjunction with wellness, we sought to test whether presumptions about the furry fandom as maladjusted or dysfunctional were supported or refuted by the data.
Across several studies, furries were shown to be no more likely than non-furries to experience anxiety in their day-to-day lives,🐾 and were diagnosed with anxiety disorders at a rate no higher than the general population (6.1%.)🐾 Similarly, furries were no more likely to experience depression than non-furries or members of other fandoms, 🐾🐾 and were diagnosed with depression and other mood disorders at a rate no higher than in the general population (16.1%.)🐾 Furries were also no more likely to have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (9.2%,)🐾 to have been prescribed psychotropic medication (37.3%,)🐾 or to have been diagnosed with a medical condition.🐾 These findings coincide with other data showing that furries are no more likely to experience dysfunctional fantasy or delusion than non-furries.🐾
In fact, of all the conditions studied, there was only one where the prevalence rate is possibly higher than in the general population: Asperger’s Syndrome, or high-functioning autism. 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). It should be noted, however, that one trait commonly associated with Asperger’s Syndrome is a powerful focus on a narrow or specific activity or interest. As such, future research is needed to test whether the increased prevalence in Asperger’s Syndrome in the furry fandom is unique, or whether it is observed in other fandoms as well.
In sum, generally speaking, there is little relationship between furries and clinical diagnoses of psychological dysfunction. Across several studies, furries did not differ significantly from the general population with regard to the prevalence psychological conditions. 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, as the data do not support such claims.
While the data suggest that furries are no more likely to experience significant dysfunction🐾 or reduced well-being🐾 compared to non-furry populations, we were nevertheless interested in the issue of disability within the furry fandom—how those with disabilities interacted with the furry fandom. This study involved the use of convention-based focus groups with those who considered themselves to have a disability of any type.🐾 Among those surveyed, the most common disabilities, displayed in the table below, were learning, communication, cognitive, and other mental disabilities. Other, more physical disabilities (e.g., acquired illness, brain injuries, and congenital conditions) were far less common, though they were present.
As the above figure below indicates,🐾 furries with disabilities used their fursonas for different functions, with some functions being more frequently adopted than others. In particular, the most popular fursona function for furries with disabilities was as a means of forgetting one’s condition, while hiding one’s condition when interacting with others was the second most popular function. Follow-up analyses revealed that furries were more likely to use their fursona to hide their disability during interactions if they had low self-esteem or if they experienced significant depression or anxiety. This suggests that the use of one’s fursona to interact with others might seem more feasible when one is experiencing significant distress or dissatisfaction with themselves. In contrast, the use of one’s fursona to temporarily forget about their condition was unrelated to their psychological well-being.
A number of furries colloquially made reference to a condition referred to as “post-con depression” (PCD)—a feeling of malaise and lowered mood in the days following a furry convention. While PCD was assumed to be a fact among furries, we aimed to test whether the data supported this condition using a number of existing psychological measures of well-being. These measures were given to furries both at Anthrocon🐾 and again, 3 or 7 days post-Anthrocon. We assessed differences between these scores and tested whether there was a statistically significant change in scores between the two time points. Without exception, furries reported less psychological well-being following the convention as compared to at the convention, which may be indicative of post-con depression.
These data show not only that furries feel sad in the days following a furry convention, but that they also experience symptoms of fatigue, inability to focus, and irritability, all of which suggest a depressive mood. Moreover, there was little to no difference between those furries completing the survey 3 days after the con to those completing it 7 days after the con. This may suggest that post-con depression may last longer than we had initially thought—perhaps
spanning weeks instead of days, and may even suggest that, rather than being construed as an aberrant “low point,” the phenomenon may be thought of as an aberrant “high point”—at-con mania. These data are, to our knowledge, the first empirical evidence demonstrating the phenomenon commonly referred to as post-con depression. Future studies will aim to not only better understand what this phenomenon entails and how long it lasts, but will also be focused on trying to reduce its effects.
Because many furries have, in interviews, focus groups, and on surveys, described the fandom as a source of social support and assistance🐾 we conducted a study aimed at testing the nature of this support. In particular, we asked furries about the extent to which they had asked for, received, and been asked for help in the furry fandom on a 5-point scale (1 – Never, 5 – Frequently.)🐾 Results revealed, first and foremost, that while furries do ask for and occasionally receive financial and practical help from other furries (e.g., help paying rent, help finding a place to live), the most common form of help that furries seek and receive from the fandom is psychological help: advice, guidance, or emotional support (see figure below). What’s more—when furries ask for help, they’re more likely to turn to specific others within the fandom, rather than to request help from the community as a whole.