By Maggie Dillingham, Washington PostStaff WriterWashington (CNN) A dog with “pointer” in its name could mean a person with a bad history of mental illness, a new study suggests.
The new study, published in the journal PLOS One, also found that people with “preference” in the dog-specific traits are more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness than those with more “general” traits.
Researchers studied more than 200,000 people who had a mental health diagnosis and followed them over time.
“A lot of the people that we were interested in were people with mental health problems, and a lot of them have those disorders, but they also had preferences in the traits that they had,” said Dr. Robert Weisbrot, the study’s lead author and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
“What’s interesting is, people who tend to have a lot more general traits are the ones that have the greatest risk of developing mental health disorders.”
The researchers found that those who had more general characteristics were more likely than others to develop a mental illness.
For example, a person who has a preference for the dog with a straight nose was more likely in their lifetime to develop an mental illness such as bipolar disorder than someone who had less preference in that trait.
Similarly, a preference in the body language of a dog could be linked to an increased risk of depression.
In addition, people with a preference towards a dog with white fur, such as a dog that has black fur, were also more likely over the course of their life to develop mental illness and have a higher risk of having a bipolar disorder.
“The idea is that people tend to be attracted to certain traits,” Weisbrogt said.
“People are attracted to these traits because they are associated with positive qualities.”
“It’s interesting that the most important thing that these people are attracted toward is positive traits.
They’re not attracted to things that are negative, or negative things,” he added.
Dr. John F. Kennedy, a professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Columbia University, called the study “a very important finding,” but cautioned that more research is needed to understand the links between these traits and mental health.
“Our data do not show a direct relationship between the degree of preference for a dog, or the breed of the dog, and an increased likelihood of developing an illness,” Kennedy wrote in an email.
“There are many possible reasons why people may be attracted by a particular breed, and we do not yet know how this could be associated with mental illnesses.”
In the study, researchers compared more than 1,400 people with bipolar disorder and depression to those without mental health diagnoses.
They also tracked how many people with and without a preference had bipolar disorder, and whether they had depression.
“This is a really important finding, but it’s a really small sample size, and I think it’s important to see if the findings are generalizable,” Weigton said.
Weisbroch said that there are some things to be concerned about with the study.
“One is that we’re still just correlating these traits with the number of people with the disorder,” he said.
But “another concern is that the relationship is fairly stable across the range of people that are interested in the breed.”
People with preference for dogs with a long nose are more than twice as likely to have bipolar disorder as those with a short nose, and nearly three times as likely as those who have a preference to a dog of the same breed.
“They have an elevated risk for mental health,” Weiscroch said.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.