Creativity, Dyslexia and Me: Part Two

In Part One of this little series I wrote a bit about my own experiences with dyslexia, and some of these things that I found interesting in the introductory sections of the paper ‘Not all those who wander are lost: Examining the character strengths of dyslexia’ by Chathurika Kannanga, Jerome Carson, Sowmya Puttaraju and Rosie Allen. I found that post quite helpful to write personally, and I think a few other people have found it interesting too.

However, I didn’t manage to get past the introduction of the paper to get into what the authors actually did, which is a bit of a shame, so I did want to write a bit about that here.

Dyslexia and character strengths

So the authors of the paper start with the question – what might the character strengths of people with dyslexia be when compared to a general population? I really like that this is a paper that takes a strengths based approach to this issue, but the approach they took left me with some doubts about the actual findings that I’ll come to a bit later.

To assess character strengths in people with dyslexia what they did was ask lots of people to take an online survey using the Values In Action Character Strengths Inventory (VIA).

This tool is a long survey (240 items) which asks people to answer questions about the extent to which a range of characteristics are ‘very much like me’ which scores a 5, across a range of responses down to ‘very much unlike me’ which scores a 1. The tool assesses 24 character strengths using ten questions to measure each one.

They managed to get 89 people with confirmed dyslexia to complete the survey, which for these kind of studies is not a particularly big number, but it’s not too small either. They then used the collective scores from these 89 people to rank character strengths in order from the strength that the group scored most highly in, down to the one that the scored least in.

So you end up with something that looks a bit like Top of the Pops, but instead of pop music it’s a chart of character strengths. They then took that list and compared it to the lists produced in other studies that had asked the same set of questions to groups of people from the general population in the US, and in the UK (note here that this is population data, not a sample of people who have been confirmed as not having dyslexia).

What they found was that the top six character strengths among people with dyslexia were (in this order):

•   curiosity
•   fairness
•   kindness
•   judgement
•   honesty
•   leadership

The extent to which people with dyslexia differ on these strengths from people who don’t have dyslexia was a bit confused to me. For example ‘curiosity’ came in at the top for the group of people with dyslexia, and while I personally strongly relate to this as a curious person, it’s important to note that it only came in third for the US and UK general population groups, which doesn’t feel like feel like a big difference when you take into account the fact that the list included twenty four character traits.

The second characteristic on the list for people with dyslexia was kindness, which was also second on the list for the group from the UK general population, and first on the list from the US general population. So there was really no meaningful difference at all there.

Creativity, which was the interest that led me to this paper in the first place, came in at number eight for the people with dyslexia. This made a full third of the way down the list, and was the same ranking for the UK general population, with rank from the US general population trailing behind only a little bit, at number eleven.

The biggest difference the authors point to is leadership, which comes in at number six for people with dyslexia, while it comes in at ten for the UK general population, and fourteen for the US general population. In the top group of traits this was the only one with a really noticeable difference across different groups, and perhaps this relates to the ‘big picture thinking’ that they cite people with dyslexia as being good at in the introduction.

For me the findings of this paper offer at best a muddled picture, meaning that maybe the key finding is that we just aren’t that different from everyone else. From a personal perspective, went into reading this paper with an idea that learning more about dyslexia would mean learning a bit more about myself, and there are problems with the methodology which mean that I don’t really feel much wiser after reading it.

Problems with the method

I think where the paper really falls down for me is the method they used, which the authors of the paper also recognise as a key problem. The VIA is tool is a 240 item questionnaire, and was not designed with dyslexia in mind in particular. 240 items is a lot of items, and I think using this tool in a study about character strengths really undermines the credibility of this paper.

People who struggle with reading may well have self-selected themselves out of this study. I have dyslexia, and I cope with it well enough to have a career in research and a side line in writing things, but I think I would probably have quit after about 20 items. Maybe after 50 if I was having a good day. I may have persisted to the end if I knew the researchers and wanted to help out, but that wouldn’t have made me the typical ‘person with dyslexia’ either.

I think the consequence of this may mean that only a particular type of person with dyslexia would have persisted until the end, which means that a lot of ‘average people with dyslexia’ may be missing from this data set. In a study about character strengths this could really skew the sample in favour of a particular set of those strengths, just by making to survey hard for people to fill in.

The authors themselves mention this as a significant limitation, and I appreciate them doing so. For me this casts doubt on the findings because it’ unlikely to be a sample of the average person with dyslexia, just the persistent ones.

I think in the next iteration of this research the team should recruit a group of people with dyslexia to redesign the survey with them so that it would be more appealing to the ‘average person with dyslexia’ if such a thing exists.

I hope that this has been interesting for dyslexics and non dyslexics alike. If you are a dyslexic writer like me, let me know in the comments – do any of these things match your experiences too?

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you are interested in the process of creativity and want to get a copy of my free short book of creative prompts, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon page here.

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