Linguists diagnosed mania George III

Portrait of George III, 1771 / The Royal Collection

Linguists found evidence of mania episodes from King George III on the basis of an analysis of his correspondence. The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE .

From synchronous historical sources it is known that during his whole 60-year reign (1760-1820) the King of Great Britain and Ireland George III suffered from repeated episodes of physical and mental disorder. This disease exacerbated many of the political crises of that time. For example, it is believed that the political dispute that began around the regency of his unpopular elder son was provoked by the unstable mental state of the monarch. The periods of exacerbation of the king’s illness were expressed in incoherent speech, episodes of uncontrolled aggression and obscene behavior.

In 1966, Ida Macalpine and Richard Hunter suggested that George III’s seizures were caused by relapses of acute porphyria . Until recently, this version remained dominant. In 2010, there was a convincing refutation of this theory, and recently a suggestion was made about the manic nature of the attacks of the monarch.

In the new study, linguists analyzed the text of letters sent by King George III to different recipients at different periods of life in order to test a fresh hypothesis. Methodologically, the authors relied on the experience of previous neurolinguistic studies, in  one of which the analysis of the spoken language of schizophrenic patients demonstrated the influence of disordered thinking on the use of language, and in  another , the peculiarities of the usage of people with bipolar affective disorder in manic and in depressive phases were revealed.

Letters written during the well-known episode of mental disorder, which lasted from October 1788 to April 1789, the authors compared to control texts written during periods of mental stability, which are known from indirect historical sources. In total, within the framework of the study, linguists analyzed more than 500 letters of George III. The sets of letters of the manic period were compared with sets of letters of the period of prema and postmania. Also, possible fluctuations in the mental state of the king were taken into account in connection with the change of the seasons of the year and the content of letters.

Linguists evaluated texts on 29 features that took into account the richness of the dictionary, the informative content and complexity of the language. Letters of periods of mania showed the redundancy of the language, the incoherence of the text in many places and the repeated use of certain word forms. Letters written after the end of the manic phase were associated with a higher lexical variety, which is consistent with the data obtained for patients with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive psychosis, manifests itself in a sharp change in affective states – hyperactivity and depression – and periods of a normal mental state. One of the main stages of treatment is the identification of the duration and beginning of these periods and the intervals between them. Until now, this information was extracted through a routine interview with the patient, but the data thus obtained was often inaccurate. Recently, Italian scientists have developed an application to fix the phase change in the mental state of patients with bipolar disorder.

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