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PLoS One. 2010 Dec 29;5(12):e16040. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016040.

Reduced fertility in patients' families is consistent with the sexual selection model of schizophrenia and schizotypy.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Center for Cognitive Science, University of Turin, Torino, Italy.



Schizophrenia is a mental disorder marked by an evolutionarily puzzling combination of high heritability, reduced reproductive success, and a remarkably stable prevalence. Recently, it has been proposed that sexual selection may be crucially involved in the evolution of schizophrenia. In the sexual selection model (SSM) of schizophrenia and schizotypy, schizophrenia represents the negative extreme of a sexually selected indicator of genetic fitness and condition. Schizotypal personality traits are hypothesized to increase the sensitivity of the fitness indicator, thus conferring mating advantages on high-fitness individuals but increasing the risk of schizophrenia in low-fitness individuals; the advantages of successful schzotypy would be mediated by enhanced courtship-related traits such as verbal creativity. Thus, schizotypy-increasing alleles would be maintained by sexual selection, and could be selectively neutral or even beneficial, at least in some populations. However, most empirical studies find that the reduction in fertility experienced by schizophrenic patients is not compensated for by increased fertility in their unaffected relatives. This finding has been interpreted as indicating strong negative selection on schizotypy-increasing alleles, and providing evidence against sexual selection on schizotypy.


A simple mathematical model is presented, showing that reduced fertility in the families of schizophrenic patients can coexist with selective neutrality of schizotypy-increasing alleles, or even with positive selection on schizotypy in the general population. If the SSM is correct, studies of patients' families can be expected to underestimate the true fertility associated with schizotypy.


This paper formally demonstrates that reduced fertility in the families of schizophrenic patients does not constitute evidence against sexual selection on schizotypy-increasing alleles. Futhermore, it suggests that the fertility estimates derived from extant studies may be biased to an unknown extent. These results have important implications for the evolutionary genetics of psychosis.

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