Interview with The Brony Study’s Dr. Patrick Edwards (a.k.a. Dr. Psych Ology): Part I

82juhUnfortunately, it’s been well over a month since we last posted and we’re still crazy busy with school. However we think we’re finally able to start posting again. Jason starts his first round of PhD exams tomorrow, so he will be super busy/brain dead for a while, but we’ve done some interesting stuff since our last post and are really excited to share it with you (hopefully you all find it interesting).

We’ll be going to a weekly posting schedule for the time being, just to be sure we don’t fall into another month of silence, so be sure to look for our posts on Thursdays! We’ll continue to respond to messages and comments throughout the week though.

For our first post back, we’re finally getting to share an interview we did with The Brony Study’s own Dr. Pat Edwards, who was kind enough to sit down with us for a lengthy chat (hopefully the first of many). We’ve begun some work on a collaborative project of sorts, which we’ll hopefully be able to drop on y’all real soonish. We conducted the interview back in February via Skype, but the quality of the recording was poor so we’ve posted a transcript (we are considering posting the audio to our YouTube. We’ll include the link on part II if we do). Special thanks to Celia, who painstakingly transcribed the interview for us since we were WAY too busy to do it (it’s a great first… and possibly last, judging by the stress it caused her… transcription).

So, without further ado, here’s the first part of the interview. Sorry it’s a bit “wall of text”-y… My computer is broken and it’s hard to do this on an iPad—we think there’s still a lot to enjoy though. Check it out and comment below the break! We’ll post the second half next week.


K: Kurt
J: Jason
P: Pat Edwards/Psych Ology

K: Thanks for doing this with us.

P: No problem.

P: How long have you been involved with Brony Research?

J: We started the Brony research together last fall. We kind of joked about it beforehand, then we started it for real in a class w/ Dr. Lepselter, who’s a professor here [at IU] and so we continued to do it from there. We got our review approvals, and I decided to make it formal. We haven’t been doing the research very long. I had been watching the show on and off since season—I didn’t know about it right away, but I knew by about Season 2 or so.

K: Yeah, and I probably started checking things out by about early Season 3, late Season 2.

P: Which is—our research is showing the biggest bubble of fans came with Season 2 and between Season 2 and Season 3. So that was kind of the biggest group.

J: Do you have any ideas of why that is?

P: That’s something we’ve been pondering, and I guess one—a lot of people’s concern was that: were we losing fans, or were people losing interest? But I think it was because that was probably about the time that it really started to hit the scene. A lot of people began to become aware of it and I think as that was the point where a lot of the people who were going to be the initial positive response to the show got exposed to it, so there was a big swell of viewers. I suspect, and, well, it’s interesting: The survey we’re doing right now—we’re actually seeing a bit of an up kick between Season 3 and Season 4. There seem to be quite a few more coming in. And it may be a sampling issue. It may be that we’re getting more of the early Bronies coming into Equestria Daily and those things. But also, our research tends to say that the newer Bronies, from now into the future, are going to be the ‘young Bronies’. Individuals who are more in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, a lot of them have been exposed to it, so they’ll be able to become a fan or not. But it seems like a lot of the younger ones are embracing it.

K: Have you seen that spike, or, rather you’ve given the average ages of Bronies. Have you seen any interesting spikes in different age categories?

P: Well, I guess what you can expect. The earlier Bronies were the ones who joined during Season 1 and between Season 1 and Season 2, which is when my son became a Brony. A lot of times they tended to be somewhat of the older Bronies. They were in their 20s, or middle to late 20s. What we’re seeing now, though, is that it seems like a lot of the new Bronies are in fact high school students and younger. So that’s—in fact, we went from our early survey having an average age of about 22. The average age for the survey we have now is 20. So we’re seeing that shift towards younger [Bronies].

J: In the survey, as it stands, is there a way to have distinguished where they’re coming from, such as pre-existing communities. I know, at least anecdotally, that a lot of early fans would have been coming out of places like 4chan and those sort of places. In some ways, that community is tapped out, in terms of what you’re saying—in terms of whether anyone knew in those communities ‘we’re gonna become a Brony!’. They’re probably kind of tapped out.

P: Especially, I would imagine, 4chan community. They’ve been deeply immersed in the Bronies from the beginning. I mean, it started there. We don’t ask, or we haven’t asked that question, per-say, about—actually, I take that back. In the new survey, I’m actually asking a number of questions trying to get a much clearer idea of the process they [the Bronies] went through in becoming fans, such as did they know anything about it beforehand; when they heard about it, did they immediately watch, did they wait a while, how did they start? I really want to get a process of their becoming a fan. I did ask the question asking if you just discovered it, what were you doing and where were you at? So we may get a little bit of that 4chan group.

One of the things, though, that our data seems to support—it’s been a hypothesis that I’ve had all along— is that when you look at our types of Bronies, that the ‘hipsters’—well, we originally called them ‘independent’, but I prefer the name ‘hipster’—they seem to be some of those older fans. They seem to be the ones who were in it more for the shock value. They didn’t embrace so much the love and tolerance aspect, and it seems to me that they make up more of those early fans than the ones who would be at 4chan. They’re also the ones who are more likely, I think, to leave the fandom as it becomes more popular and there’s no more shock value; that it’ll lose that attraction for them. That’s a trend that we’re kind been seeing.
So I suspect that it started at 4chan, that a lot of the early Bronys—you know, I’ve actually been told that the whole ‘love and tolerance’ was actually a joke. But, as I told one that I was talking with at Brony-con once, he was a little frustrated. He said, “You know, these new Bronies, they don’t realize that it’s just a joke”. And I said, “Well, what you don’t realize is that it isn’t a joke.” Fandoms, like churches, often change, and the early members sometimes look around and say, “This isn’t where I started. This isn’t as good or bad as it was at first.” I think that’s particularly the case with the hipster Bronies. That’s something they’re likely to experience. Some people have expressed concern that some of the more ‘famous’ characters—some of the more famous early Bronies have left, but again, I think that they probably have left because the fandom has changed. Now others would say that it’s changed for the positive.

J: Yeah. Now, talking about the aspects of shock value, and the traits of shock value: Have you done any research about what the shock value has been based upon? Has it been based upon questions that have to do with gender more often, in the performance of liking a thing that’s ‘for girls’, or is it along an axis of adolescence, such as, “I’m doing this thing for kids”? Have you seen anything that would suggest what the actual components of shock value would be for? Who are they shocking?

P: Right. That’s a good question, and I don’t know that I can answer it really well yet because one of the things—I guess I would say this: having two teenage sons, I have one that’s 18; he’s in college, and the other is 22, also in college. I know sometimes that young people just like shock. They like to get a rise out of people. It could be tied to identity issues, with some teenagers. You know, they like to try on different roles, determining what kind of reaction they’re going to get. Actually, in the survey that we’re doing right now, I included questions that measure identity. I’ll actually have a better idea in about six weeks whether or not some of that is tied in to identity. But, those hipster Bronies, that are more likely to say that? One thing is that they tend to be very extroverted and tend to be high on humor. I think some of it, with them, that they like to shock people. It’s a way to get social interactions going. They also tend to feel pretty comfortable with who they are so they’re willing to take that sort of risk. And I can see that. I almost think it’s like the person whose identity is ‘I’m different, and I’m proud of it, and I’m going to make you aware of it.’ The one thing about the Brony, though, is that—and this is one of the reasons that I got into the fandom—is that it is so striking to find a group of males that are willing to go against two stereotypes: the age and the gender. That adds to the shock value. There would be no shock value wandering around down here, saying “I’m into Nascar.” Everyone would be like, “Big whoop!” But tell them that you’re into a cartoon for little girls, and that’s going to get quite the reaction from them. We’re still trying to piece that out. I think that the identity data may help us see if we have individuals who have a clear identity, and that they’re identity is to be somewhat oppositional.

Also, the hipster Bronies are high on ‘non-conscientious’. In general, the Bronies are low on conscientiousness, which means they’re not as tied in to rules. They’re less likely to say, “Oh my gawsh, is there a rule to follow?” They’re more likely to say, like my son does, “If I like pink, I like pink”.

J: To me, that seems like a particular ideology that is—so, the thing that I would want to try and tease out there is that they probably also come from backgrounds where there’s a difference that pulls all together. There’s a certain set of social rules that we are imagining as the standard ones, but they may be coming from backgrounds where those ‘normal rules’ are not the rules of their families, or their colleagues, or whatnot.

P: They come from peer groups where it might be very accepted.

J: Right. We might, at least, our research is ethnographic, so it tends to be fewer people, very, very deeply, and at least the people we’ve encountered—they have taken what might be considered ‘hipster’ positions on your study. It seems to me that they all have really really strong rules of how they live. They actually have strong rules, they just happen to be rules in opposition to what is considered the ‘normal’ rules.

P: What you might say is that they are not without a set of moral rules, just that they don’t follow the same set as ‘everybody else’ does.

J: Exactly.

P: It’s interesting because we just looked at some data that the Bronies on the meaning of life. What you tend to find with the hipsters—which is the group that is often likely to say that shock value—is that they tend to feel pretty comfortable. They feel like they have meaning in their lives, and they really aren’t looking for new meaning. That would really fit with what you’re saying. They know who they are, and they feel comfortable with it. It’s just that part of who they are is that opposition.

J: Yeah, someone said it’s almost as if you’ve got one group that may be looking for a way to change themselves and aren’t sure of themselves. They’re looking for tools for something like identity construction. But then you have the other group that wants to use the tools to reconstruct the rest of the world. So the shock value has a political edge to it. There’s one guy who we’ve been working with, Ben, who I think would fall into this category, while at the same time, he’s taking very specific stances on the questions of gender, and what’s the moral thing for a grown man to do. He’s specifically taking that position to question society and to force people to reconcile with him.

P: It’s going to be interesting to see how that identity data comes out. That’s fitting right along with some of what I’d expect to see with that group. It’s interesting: The one thing I think that the hipsters and that the social Bronies will have in common is that they both seem to feel pretty comfortable and good with who they are. Interestingly, the difference between the two is that the social Bronies are still out there looking and seeking, kind of looking for guidance, whereas the hipsters are not. The hipsters feel kind of comfortable with who they are, and they’re going to act on it.

K: One thing—this might be a good place to do it. Both Jason and I have been talking, but we’re both really curious about how you came up with the typology of Bronies. You said a bit about it in there, but what, when you have this mass of data and you’re basing it on two separate siding scales, what prompted five choices instead of nine or—

P: That’s a real good question, and luckily, you had asked a question in what you had sent me at the very beginning, you had asked about my background and research and that, and one of the things that I feel like we’re benefitting from this is that I’ve been teaching for 30 years. I’ve taught graduate level and undergraduate, and I’ve taught everything in psychology, I am not kidding. Sexual behavior, drugs and alcohol, psychology of religion, development, personality, and I feel in many ways that what I’ve taught has all come together and given me this knowledge base that when I discovered the Bronies, or when my son told me he was a Brony, and I’ll just steal a line from Twilight Sparkle, “We must science this immediately!”. I was able to pull all of that background in, and one of the things has been in the field of personality theory. They talk about typology, and one of the real popular ones is Jung’s typology. Although, in the field of psychology, that is not used very much. It hasn’t held up, research-wise. It’s very popular in other areas. Business has run with it, but a lot of that is marketing. People pay out of the nose to have other people come in and give the Myers-Briggs and tell them what it means for your workers. Not that that doesn’t have value, but in the field of personality there’s a group called the Trait Dispositional Theorists. One of—and I don’t know how familiar you are with factor analysis, the technique. Raymond Catell, he was one of those personality theorists, and he developed factor analysis as a way of trying. And the idea was that you have this huge pool of data and you know that it’s inter-related, and the factor analysis lets you go in and group things together. So you can reduce maybe hundreds of variables down to maybe about 10 variables. That’s basically what we did, rather, I did. I designed the questionnaires and also do the statistics, but—Let me step back for a second.

I tell my students…. When I heard about the Bronies I did the thing that any good researcher would do: I looked at the literature. Of course, what I discover, EH: There was nothing on Bronies, which I kind of expected. But I was shocked that there was nothing within psychology about fandoms. Nobody is studying it!

I’m one of those people: I’m a Lord of the Rings fan, I was a big World of Warcraft fan. So I knew fandoms, and I knew that they could be these interesting, pro-social places, so I was shocked that no one was doing any research on them.

So then I said, what I’ve got to do is the next step when you can’t find data. [That] is I met with six Bronies and did extensive interviews with them. And I used those interviews, and I began to get some insight. I was listening. I am a clinical psychologist—I’m a therapist—I’m trained to sit down and listen to people and glean information from them. So I started doing that, and that’s when I started hearing some of the different functions, clearly the social function, ‘here to make friends’, and the escape function, the entertainment function.

I was surprised by something that you had asked in one of your questions, and I balked when I got this. “What’s the most surprising thing about fandom?” It was in one of those interviews, I was talking with a Brony, and asked “So, is there anything about the fandom that I’ve missed? Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about?”

And he was the one that looked at me and said, “Well, WWPD.”
And I went, “huh?”, and he said, “Well, What Would a Pony Do?”
As soon as he said that, a light bulb went off. And I thought “a guidance function.” Course now, I hadn’t watched MLP yet, so I went and watched and said. And I said, “Oh my god, they’re all parables!” Everyone has a clear moral message.

So that gave me that insight. I would have never guessed. And I think that’s a mistake a lot of people make if they never watch the cartoon when they’re trying to understand it. Most people would think it’s just a cute little cartoon for girls. They will totally miss the guidance function.

But then, from there, basically, I created the initial instrument. It was 120 questions, and it covered about 8-9 different areas, you know: making friends, socialize with people. It had a large number.

We ran it on the first group and got about 4000 Bronies to take it. And after we had, of course, once we pulled out people who hadn’t finished it, then I did the factor analysis. And I was able to take that and narrow it down to eight variables. That was useful because it showed things like the guidance, etc.

Then I did what’s called second order factor analysis: You take those eight variables, you throw them in and redo them. What I got was two factors that accounted for—I think it was middle 60s in variance, which is pretty good.
One of the factors was what we initially called the social guidance factor: People were Bronies because of the social contact and the guidance. The other factor was what we first called the isolation factor: it was really about being isolated, not being able to tell you family or friends, those types of things.

Then the idea it came to me: if those are the two factors the Bronies can be separated on, then we just basically did a high medium low on each dimension. The people who were high social guidance, low isolation became what we call the social Bronies. The secret Bronies were the high on guidance, but high on isolation.

Let me mention one thing: You’ll notice if you look at more recent results, especially if you look at the comparison study. We’ve kind of refined the typology. It’s no longer social guidance and isolation. What we really realize is that we have a guidance function and we have a self-disclosure function. So, Bronies who are able to wear the Brony shirts and tell their families, like the hipsters and the social Bronies. The guidance is the social and the secret Bronies. The hidden Bronies are low on both. They don’t seek guidance and they also don’t disclose.

They were always kind of a mystery to me, like “why were they Bronies?” But they also seem to be the smallest group, at least in our populations, 5%.
We have some, and I’ll know better, with the survey we’re doing right now, my suspicion is that the hidden Bronies are the ones…well, one of the guys we interviewed, he called them the ‘sad Bronies’. And I’ve met some of them, and they’re pretty distressed. They’re depressed, suicidal…I think that’s the hidden bit—they can’t tell anybody, and the fandom is a safe place for them to be. But they don’t necessarily really get a lot else out of it. It’s a safe place, and they like the cartoon, but they don’t make a lot of friends. I’ve met them at Brony Con, and here they are with 8000 people and they’ll tell me, “I just feel so isolated.” That represents that kind of secret, hidden Brony.
So that’s kind of how we came to it. And in general, let me just tell you: ‘cause we have a personality psychologist upstate, and in general, personality psychologists do not like typologies. Generally, they’re very suspicious of them because. It’s easy to throw typologies together, but the question is: are they really valid?

Also, though, what I find—and one of the reasons we did it—is because people are drawn to typologies. We all have a tendency to meet people and we wanna know, “how do they fit?” You meet another Brony, and you wanna say: are they a happy Pinky Pie Brony or are they a brainy, nerdy Twilight Sparkle? And so it’s natural that we try to put people into typologies.

Let me just say this about our typology, though: This is our old survey. In every survey, we find more and more validity for our typology, whether you’re talking about personality: whether you’re talking about introversion, extroversion, conscientiousness; whether you’re talking about search for meaning, whether you’re talking about curiosity…it’s sort of like, just like you would predict. Those type groups have those characteristics. We are feeling that at some point soon we’ll have a manuscript and it’s gonna have some real powerful validity for that. I don’t know that for a lot of the Bronies it’s as useful, but it’s more useful as a scientist. Because we’re talking about how the social Bronies, not that they like Pinky Pie, but how they look on various personality measures.

Also, you might suspect, you know, the Bronies who have the loving, caring kind of families who are accepting are the social Bronies. Who are the ones who live a little bit in fear of people finding out? The secret Bronies. Even the families that they come from and the communities they come from, kinda seem to fit with our typologies.

J: So that was exactly what my next question was, which is about various—the kind of crisscross of different sorts of cultural formations, such as the ways that the questions of class might cross over, where, maybe, people who are middle class from certain sorts of stable families end up falling into categories more likely than all the other possibilities, where people of different back ground may belong in other ones.

P: We have a suspicion—I was talking with Daniel Chadborn and he’s our colleague back in Louisiana. He joined the Brony study a little over a year ago. He’s an experimental psychologist, and he’s particularly interested in a PHD program in Social psychology. His interest is more in the personality issues. He suspects, and we’ll find out with the data we’re collecting right now, that the secret Bronies not only come from families where it’s not quite so safe to be open, but they also seem to come from communities that are much more traditional. More rural, small schools. And lately, we’ve also had the sad incident in the news from over in North Carolina. And that’s a little bit of the reasons I posted the data I posted about bullying is that I kind of want the fandom to think of this: There are probably some people who shouldn’t tell anybody they’re a Brony, because it’s probably not real safe for them, unless they’re a strong individual with a good support system.

There does seem to be some sort of small 10% who said that being a Brony had led to more bullying. I think that goes back to just what you’re saying, some of the cultural issues, class, and also locale, where you’re from.
Interestingly, I’m looking at the New Bronies, the Bronies who are just coming in, and the two areas with the biggest number of Bronies are the south Atlantic from Virginia down to Florida, and where you guys live, up in the Midwest. The smallest numbers come from the South, Mississippi and Tennessee, and also New England. I’m not sure if we haven’t just tapped into that, but…I think that that’s part of it.

I’m in the process—I’ve outlined it and…I don’t know if it’s going to be end up being a book or a major journal article, but I’m putting together a psycho-social model of fandoms. I’m trying to bring together all of the factors that we psychologists are aware of that would play a role.

One of the important factors is social environment the fandom is embedded in. So there’s a big difference if you are upper middle class with fairly liberal parents and accepting friends. You know, my son, when he came out as a Brony…well, what did I do? I ended up researching it. His mother was at first concerned. But I talked to her about our research, and she ended up saying to me: “I’m glad he’s a Brony.” And yes, Will finally told his friends at school, and they all became Bronies. So obviously for him, he hasn’t had to deal with what some kids have.

J: There’s definitely something about something…that has to do with Fandom in general, and there’s some aspect of that mess that’s specific to…if not this fandom, then at least to particularly deviant appearing fandoms.
Thinking about ways of studying fans in general: There are people who study fandoms like this, and there are people who study soccer fans and football fans. And in those cases I’ve never seen anyone be a closet football fan. So there are certain things about are thing that are valorized socially anyway that are going to produce certain opportunities for—within the typologies specifically with you—and personality possibilities, certain possibilities of socializing.

P: Let me share with you one of the things…we’re having a manuscript we’re rewriting…I’m challenging psychology. Particularly, what I’m saying to them is: “Listen, the Bronies have taught us one thing. You should not label a fandom deviant because of what it likes.” In other words, you shouldn’t look at it and say “that’s a show for little girls, so they must be a deviant group.” Most psychologies, especially clinicians, we take a functional approach. If someone comes in and says, “Do I have a problem?” What I do is I look and saying, “Well, how is it working for you? Are you losing your job? Can you not get a relationship?”

And we’re sort of saying, if you’re going to label fandoms deviant, don’t call them deviant because of what they like, look at how they function. If it’s leading the fans to trouble, or if it’s leading to certain problems, or if they spend all of their time playing videogames so they’re skipping class and failing everything, then that’s deviant.

But simply because it’s a cartoon for little girls…and in fact what I’ve been saying to my colleagues is that when you look closely, it’s a good place to be.
Like one parent told me: She said, “If I have the choice of my son being a Grand Theft Auto fan and a MY Little Pony fan, I’ll take My Little Pony.”
Well, who wouldn’t? If you take the time to realize what the cartoon is, you’ll see it’s parable, it’s engaging humorous characters. And, in fact, this season, in particular, with all the ‘Power Pony’ episode, I said, “Can Hasbro be playing any more towards the Bronies?” Many of the Bronies are in comic books, Marvel characters, yeah.

So, I’m challenging—and we’ve gotten really good reception. The reviewers really, really like what we’re saying.

What I’m really saying is: look at fandoms for what people get out of them. Don’t just simply look at them.

It’d be like me looking at NASCAR and saying “a bunch of drunk yahoos”

K (laughing): That’s what I say.

P: That’s a segment of them! But there are others. And, in fact, it’s interesting, you’ve mentioned…I do think what has drawn so much attention to the Bronies is that I have not come across another fandom that breaks two major stereotypes.

But I think that there are also other fandoms—well, I think that in general, there are…the whole issue of when you say you’re a fan, people will say “Get a life”. Well, but these same people who are bitching about fans will also go and build their whole weekend around football games.

J: Or do fantasy football!

P: Or they’ll spend a fortune on cigars! So, I have a problem with that. We’ll tell some fandoms they’re acceptable, and yet, cigar fandoms are killing themselves. And some of them are spending money they don’t have.
From a functional standpoint, that ain’t working for you. As Dr. Phil would say, “how’s that working for you?” It isn’t.

So that’s one of the things…People ask me…I think you ask, what do I think about the studies we’re doing and what’s it got to say to psychology…and when I started I had no idea this was going to happen. I was just intrigued to know what my son was into. But really quickly I realized one of the things that the Bronies needed was that they needed somebody to step in, and to fairly quickly negate the stereotypes, you know, “Bronies are a bunch of gays, Bronies are a bunch of perverts.” Well, no, they’re not. Not anymore than if you took a population of 18-30 year olds. You’re gonna find a lot of variety.

That was something we did early to help the Bronies, to help lay to rest some of these myths. But I felt the field of psychology is missing a tremendous opportunity. Fandoms are these wonderful psychological laboratories. You have this group of people who love something. When I tell my colleges I’ve run five surveys and gotten 50,000 responses, I mean, you can just see them salivate! I know people who have run studies for 6 months and gotten 200 responses.

There is the whole issue about…we are getting a select population who are highly motivated, and to what degree do they represent the whole fandom? But, when the biggest problem is that you’re getting subjects, this is a nice problem to have.

I think psychology is missing a lot and it’s also mislabeling a lot of individuals. The Internet is changing everything. If we’re going have a prosocial group who have ideas and want to stand up: we need fandoms that will rise up from the Internet.The boy scouts are fading. Fewer and fewer people are going to church. So we need a prosocial kind of input, and I don’t see why fantoms couldn’t be that. The Bronies have that component.

J: I think one interesting thing is that, at least, with the Bronies I’ve interacted with… it does bear out, according to your results, they are mostly heteronormative males. Comparing them to other groups of people, they’re bunch of heteronormative males who are cooler with gay people than most people.

So I think there are two sets of questions that are really interesting about this group. One, how do they represent themselves as a group?
Also, how do they see the identity of others and how tolerant they are and how willing they are to interact with those?

The fandom doesn’t have, for example, some don’t have the greatest relationship with the furries in the fandom, but it’s definitely a more reasonable relationship, then say, furries with anyone else in the world ever.
It’s interesting to see those things happening at the same time. It’s a hopeful message. These people are normal, in lots of ways, but these are also people who are willing to see a lot of other possibilities…

P: And some of the personality stuff we see with the Bronies: They tend to be higher on openness and lower of conscientiousness. Those two things together will tell you that this is going to be a group that’s going to be more accepting. First of all, they have fewer rules, you know, saying “You can’t cross this line.” That’s the lower conscientiousness. The openness means, to each their own.

Also I think most of the time, when you get a group that is being singled out for some characteristic and stereotyped, there is always the potential that they’ll be less likely to do that to others.

In a sense, they know what it’s like. They know what it’s like when somebody decides that they look at your t-shirt and they know everything there is to know about you. So I think that they [The Bronies] are going to be less likely to do that.

I think that’s that one of the things…a number of the people I’ve met who are people who aren’t Bronies…that’s one of the things they take away from the fandom that really excites them, is that prosocial aspect of. Here’s a place where…and the study we’re doing right now, in part, the reason I did it is because we, well…

Two reasons: we keep hearing from Bronies and their parents about this positive aspect. In fact, I’ve had Bronies say that “The fandom saved my life.” And parents who will say “The Bronies saved my son.”
But we’ve also heard that there are therapists who send their teen clients to Bronies and tell them, “Become a Brony” because it’s such a supportive place, although that can lead to some issues.
One taunt is that all Bronies are a bunch of autistic individuals, which, of course, is not the case.

But the survey we’re doing right now is going to distinguish some of that. But in particular, we want to look at what are the impacts, both positive and negative.

Nobody’s done this with anything. Nobody’s ever really sort of said, “Well, what are people getting out of it? Are they less depressed?”
And I think what we’re going to find is that all in all it has a very positive impact on a lot of them.

J: Ethnographically, too, I’ve been impressed by, and what I have been following is one group that calls itself My Little Support Group. It’s My Little Support Group, and basically they’re Reddit community, but basically anyone can come in and talk about things. And it’s surprising, but I’ve seen a couple of threads of people who come in and say, “I’m not a Brony, but you’re the most open group on Reddit to talk about such and such” And then they start talking about their personal problems, their isolation from society, sometimes their suicidal thoughts.

That definitely says something about the particular ways that a portion of the fandom has presented itself as being open.

P: We have some indication that some of those the hipster Bronies in their desire to shock can sometimes take on troll-like qualities. They’ll step in when there’s a discussion about favorite ponies and they’ll oppose whatever pony someone’s presenting just to oppose it and kind of stir things up a little bit.

I think clearly there is a segment of the fandom who finds the fandom and embraces it because they need a safe place. They desperately need it. And as a clinician, you often see that with clients who are isolated. They need someplace that they feel that they can be safe and where they can express themselves.

The Brony community at large is very much like that. I think it gives it one of its strengths. It also creates some difficulty. Some people are going to say, “There’s too many sad Bronies, and there are too many people who get so caught up in it, like Asperger’s individuals who may become SO consumed with it.” But, you know, that’s sort of the dimension.

J: On that front, have you seen the Brony documentary?

P: The one they made from Brony con? Yeah, and actually, I’m in it.

J: Oh yeah, that’s right, you are! Yeah!

P: I and Doctor Redden are in it.

J: So, how did you feel about the representation there? There are a tendency towards, I felt, presenting mostly people who were isolated. And telling it as this kind of childhood story, but there are a lot of people…there is a tendency towards showing the stories of people who may be slightly more autistic or socially awkward in certain ways or who had difficulties. How do you feel about the visual representation of that documentary?

P: Overall, I liked it, not just because I was in it. I liked the way it presented the fandom. I’m trying to think, I heard somebody…it was almost like a cheerleading kind of thing. I think its intent was trying to negate and to dispel some of the misconceptions people have by saying “It’s a wonderfully positive place. It’s this group of wonderfully positive people. It’s accepting, and young boys can come and find it’s okay to like the ponies, and even their fathers can.”

It had that quality, and I think probably some people roll there eyes…but I think as a mechanism and as a device it sort of spread the word. I think it probably worked. So I guess that’s my general…It was probably played up a little more. I don’t know that all the people they focused on were normal Bronies. I think it leaned a little heavy on, you know, the girl with cancer and those kind of issues.

In general, though, I think it was okay. I think it was a counterbalance to some of the things you’ll see people like Fox News do.
I went to the very first Brony con, which was a hoot. I got a standing ovation from 800 of the Bronies, and we never get standing ovations.

J: How does it feel to be a rock star?

P: People wanted my autograph and they wanted to take their picture with me, and I was thinking, “Wow! This is different.” The thing that struck me there, in the whole convention, there were three cosplay people. When I later saw FOX’s news report, they interviewed three people. And you know the three they interviewed. The three cosplayers. And I’m like, there are those people who go out of their way to try and find people who are too different. Cosplay is great, but I’ve been to every Brony con and what I’ve noticed is the females kind of play cosplay more, which I think is an interesting question.

Cosplay is not a big aspect of Brony Con. It is for Anime.

J: I think that ties a lot to the fact that these are largely gender normative in a lot of ways. These are largely gender-normative. So if they’re gender-normative, and they’re largely men, they’re not really into costume play.
P: Somebody else pointed out that most of the main ponies are all females.
Although now there’s a lot more males. But also my stepdaughter had an interesting observation, and I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this. I think there’s probably a lot of impact on the general tenor of the fandom. She’s big into anime, she goes to con, she cosplays and spends weeks on her costume.

A lot of Bronies were meeting up at Anime and I asked her, “What’s the feeling at the Anime people about the Bronies?”

And she said, “Well, they tolerate the Bronies. The biggest problem anime fans have with Bronies is that most of them have never been in a big fandom before.” That being a Brony is the first time they’ve been involved in a fandom in this way. You go to website, you’ve got the song, you’ve got your pony…and she said like with most of the anime, and I know she’s in to five or six different things, and I think there’s probably some truth to that, which probably means that for the majority of Bronies, this is probably very new to them and they don’t know, in a sense, how to act.

When they go to Brony con, it’s not trying to be an Anime Convention. They’re not trying to be those people. And I think that’s…especially now that more and more of the newer Bronies are younger Bronies.
Will told me once, he said, “Dad, this is the first time I’ve been involved in anything like this. I can’t imagine what my life would be like not being involved.” He’s very much absorbed into the fandom.

And he’s off in college, and he can meet with the Bronies. They walk around with their Brony shirts on. They bro-hoof each other, and he’s making lots of new friends at college.

9 thoughts on “Interview with The Brony Study’s Dr. Patrick Edwards (a.k.a. Dr. Psych Ology): Part I

  1. Great interview! Can’t wait to see part 2. 🙂

    While I think that what Jason said about me is correct, so far as it goes, I think the way it comes across here may be an overstatement. It’s true that I disregard (and to a lesser extent, rail against) social norms which I personally disagree with. And it’s true that I’m a social liberal, so among the norms I disagree with are narrowly-defined (or potentially any) gender roles. It’s even true that there’s an extent to which I simply enjoy being an iconoclast. All that said, none of those things are ever top-of-mind when I’m deciding what I like, what I buy, or what I wear. If I like a t-shirt, for example, because it’s cute, or cool, or funny, I buy it and I wear it. How any random person might react never even comes to mind. My preferred outfit of jeans and a geeky t-shirt is considered standard attire at my job as a software engineer, so most days I don’t have to give it any thought. (Yes, I do have enough social sense and respect for others not to wear a t-shirt to a wedding, for example.) It’s just, “Do I feel like My Little Pony today or Star Trek?”
    What I’m getting at is that while the feelings and beliefs mentioned at the top of the previous paragraph may subconsciously affect what I like (and I tend not to analyze why I like the things I do, making that even more possible), they don’t play an active part in my decision-making process. Also as I said on my guest post here a ways back, while what I buy and wear are obviously active decisions, I don’t feel as though what I like is. Whether I like something feels like a purely emotional response (part of the reason I find it hard to define why I like something); what I do about those feelings is where logic and reason come in.

    Now, if someone who knows me and respects me learns that I like My Little Pony and shifts their ideas about gender roles or gender expression as a result, great! But, partially because I’m skeptical about how likely that is or how big a shift it’d be likely to be, I don’t go out of my way to get in anyone’s face with, “This is how the world should be!” It’s primarily about self-expression, so if I’m getting in anyone’s face, it’s with, “This is how I am!” And while I’m aware that simple refusal to conform to a social norm is a great way to break it down, and I’m happy to be part of that, that still comes in as post hoc analysis on my part, not a causal factor.
    I’ve always been comfortable in my own skin, content (even happy) being one of the weird ones (not ‘the’ weird one – I’ve always had friends like me). But now more than ever, being in my mid-30s, married, advanced in my career, and with enough close, long-time friends (as an introvert, I don’t need or want a legion of semi-friends), there’s no one left I feel the need to impress. I can just be me, as loud as I want, and let whoever feel whatever they feel about it.

    1. Hey Ben!

      Thanks a lot for the comments, they actually work super well with what we were saying in this past conference presentation that we are still trying to figure out what we want to do with. We definitely don’t want to overstate the “resistance” or whatever that is involved with choosing a shirt or liking a show, as I can’t think of too many people who like a show or put on a shirt because they want to dismantle gender norms—they usually just like the show or the shirt and, should what they do happen to affect someone in some way, so be it. I’m imagining that there are moments where you might make a point that you’re rocking some pony gear if you notice people giving you funny looks or something—an act that I think does a lot of good in many cases and is often undervalued as to the effects that it can really have—but I definitely think that, for the VAST majority of people, your comments are very true.

      The paper that we gave, which I’m hoping I can at least post a link to here in a week or so, actually focuses on exactly that topic. The theme of the conference we went to focused on “the everyday art of subversion” and a lot of the papers were SUPER resistance-y in their tone, often talking about small acts of “everyday resistance” to oppressive aspects of societies. Our point was to remind people of the 20+ year scholarly history of cautioning people against getting too romantic in their ideas of everyday resistance/the underdog sticking it to the man, using y’all’s comments to argue that, in most cases, we don’t see people in the fandom talking about actively resisting anything in the ways that folklorists often frame these sorts of things. Rather, most of the comments we’ve seen frame things the same way as you, where people are just going about liking a thing that they like in many of the same ways that they like other things that they like. Most narratives along these lines that we’ve seen involve people talking about the fandom allowing them to express themselves, be themselves, or do what comes natural to them, not allowing them to fight the man or anything like that. If anyone is resisting anything, in my opinion, it’s the people that lash out against bronies for doing the things that they do—which is a completely different (actually, the exact opposite) narrative than the “stick it to the man” one often found in folklore and other types of scholarship.

      So yeah, TL;DR version: Super awesome point. We’ll try to get this last paper we did up soon, as we are trying to say some of the same things. That paper is even more densely academic than the other one though (purposely so… we were trying to drive home a point to the audience there), so we’re trying to figure out what we want to do with it here. At the moment, the options are looking like either a heavily annotated version of it or rewriting it in a less assholishly academic manner and posting both of them side by side. We were also toying with the idea of just posting the link to the Google Doc we’re using, as our hope is to expand the paper into an article to publish and it would be pretty cool to allow people to view (and comment upon, if anyone cares enough to, lol) the draft as we expand it and clean it up.

      Also, I’m pumped about the second half of the interview myself… did you know that Dr. Edwards is a fiction writer? lol. Still a few things to check on the transcription before I can get the draft up though. Hopefully my poor laptop will be back with me next week so that it will be easier to post everything (WordPress for iPad isn’t all that great).

      1. I think it’s a tendency everyone has to focus on the loudest, most obnoxious guy in the room and assume everyone else is like him. You see it in almost every single news report about bronies and I think a lot of it bleeds into the studies as well. Reporters pass over the hundreds of guys in simple t-shirts and they interview the one guy in rainbow tights with feathered wings. They paint the picture only with the most extreme colors they can find and call it complete.

        To bring this back to the topic, there are certainly a few bronies who flaunt their alignment and use it as some sort of social lever to get whatever point across, but those are only the extreme outliers of the group. You guys also mentioned romanticizing the battle against society, and I think that’s a huge part of it too. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t see myself as any sort of moral crusader out to change the world. I see myself as an individual who likes what I like and that’s the end of the story, seriously. Of course I’m conscious of how society sees things but that only factors into my decision making process in a negative way, not a positive one. I’ll never wear a pony shirt specifically because I know it will make someone uncomfortable, but I might choose not to wear one because of that very same reason. I’m not out to change the world, I just want to carve out a little piece of it that I can call my own; and in this little piece of the world my rules are the only ones that matter.

        I would posit that for the vast majority of us this is the case. We do what we do because we want to do it, not because we want to change the world or stick it to the man or whatever cliche you want to use. Gradual social change may be a side effect of what we do, but it’s only ancillary to our primary reason. We enjoy the show, we like the shirt, so we want to wear it. Why does it need to be any more complicated than that?

        1. I think it’s often at least a little more complicated, even if only in the sense you describe. Generally the negative reaction I’d expect to an MLP shirt isn’t someone being “uncomfortable” per se, but them choosing to use it as a reason to look down on me (whether they come out and say so or not). I personally don’t care about such things, for the reasons I described above, but I have occasionally been willing to tone down the pony merch when meeting up with my wife and her friends, at her request; she’s more sensitive than I am to others’ judgments. She’s the one who said, “No, it’s too girly,” when I showed her one super-cute shirt at Hot Topic. (A week later, I bought it anyway, finally responding too “too girly” with, “Ehhh, I don’t think that’s a thing.”)

          Clearly, this is a difference which I believe the Brony Study has found between those who proudly wear pony merch and those who don’t. Context and safe spaces are fine, but we all have to go out in public, shopping, riding mass transit, whatever, and we never know exactly what sort of person we’ll encounter on a given day. So there’s always the risk of encountering that jerk who’ll make a rude comment. (Though there’s also the chance of a great comment, whether a compliment from a fellow fan, or my personal favorite: they guy getting off the subway who saw my plush Derpy scarf and yelled, “Aw, yeah! I love Pokemon!” XD Not enough to identify it, apparently. Anyway….) Each person decides for themselves what it’s worth to express themselves versus what it’s worth not to risk those sorts of interactions. That’s clearly going to depend on each individual’s personality.

          All that said, I think that’s where 99% of it stops, and otherwise agree with you that it’s no more complicated. Even I’ll confess though, that I was eager to wear pony merch to the first big family gathering (which only come up once or twice a year) after I became a fan, as a way to “come out” to my extended family. I did expect a few raised eyebrows, though no more than that, if only because they all know me as a geek already. Again, no “uncomfortable” reactions, but some perhaps slightly negative. But it was important to me, and if nothing else, might translate for them (nearly all the Fox News sort) to a higher opinion of bronies than they might otherwise have, which also mattered to me. So yeah, there sometimes can be some complications, but I do find them few and far between, and constrained to close personal interactions rather than sweeping attempts to reshape society.

          PS, the most concrete outcome of wearing the plush Rainbow Dash scarf (yes, I own both plush scarves) to that family holiday party was learning that my college-age cousin is a also brony. So it was definitely worth it. 🙂

          1. I came across this the other day and I gotta say, seeing stuff like this really makes me smile


            As I said before, this stuff isn’t the reason I watch the show or wear the shirts, but if our quirks do happen to bring society a step or two closer to true equality I can be happy about that.

            I suppose I also have to confess, after reading what Ben said above, that I ‘have’ once or twice worn a pony shirt in situations where I expected to get some sort of reaction. Once was soon after I became ‘official’ and my parents expressed concern for my sanity. We got together for a few days and I wore a Fluttershy shirt around the house. I’ve also worn one to school a couple times because several of my classmates had mentioned they were fans as well.

            In both cases it worked out well. My family warmed to the idea and my classmates were very complimentary. You’re absolutely right about each individual choosing where to stay hidden and where to fly the colors, so to speak. I still maintain that for most of us these decisions are local and not motivated by a desire for sweeping social changes, but if we cause a little here and there we can probably take some pride in that.

            1. Love the picture! I definitely feel that most people I have talked to in the fandom (and in other cases resembling it) take that same stance, trying to do what they feel like doing in situations that they feel they can do it and, maybe finding the opportunities at times to challenge a few people, foster a debate, and push people in the right direction. The beautiful thing is that the small acts that people do just because they like the show and wanna buy some kickass RD merch or whatever actually does foster debates about gender roles and stereotypes that, in many cases, can be quite productive. For instance, my mom was out with a friend the other day and, apparently, saw a brony eating in Taco Bell. Knowing that I’m running this blog and having talked to me about MLP, she was able to point out what a brony is and talk about them to her friend. While I’m sure that the conversation still revolved around “that’s so weird,” my mom knows enough about the fandom to know that it is a thing and that the people in it aren’t a bunch of pedophiles (as many people of her religious/political/regional background often do). They also talked to me about it afterward and I was able to do a bit more to normalize the fandom for them and challenge the idea that liking MLP is any weirder than liking anything else. It certainly wasn’t meant to be a “I’m going to challenge the world moment” on that brony’s part, or on my part, but the incident brought up a conversation that, perhaps ever so slightly, was able to change someone’s understandings . I guess, what I’m (and you’re) hinting at is the fact that these changes do happen, but they often happen through very small acts that are not necessarily (or primarily) intended as such—either way, much more nuanced than a “bronies as marginalized resistors” approach.

  2. Something unrelated that struck me here in part 1 was Dr. Edwards’s comments on typology versus factor analysis. With the understanding that I know enough about statistics and the scientific method that I wouldn’t seek to apply this to the whole field based on my own experience (I’m fond of telling people that “one” is not a statistically significant sample size)…I’ve always hated Big Five and Ocean as compared to Myers-Briggs, because they’ve always been far less accurate at describing me personally. When I take MBTI instruments, I’m invariably at the extreme end of three of the four scales, only unclear on the J/P metric. But when I read summaries of the types, it’s painfully obvious that I’m an INTJ, which is what I test as. Most INTJ descriptions sound like they could have been written about me personally.
    In contrast, I find myself in what see as a very muddied middle on most factors when I take factor analysis tests. Often this strikes me as being because two unrelated things are being measured by a factor, and I swing in opposite directions on them. To use Conscientiousness as the easiest example, Jason noted – and I touched on it briefly in my earlier comment – that many of us (myself included) have very strong rules we live by, but these aren’t always in alignment with society’s rules. Some Conscientiousness questions do seem to be getting at whether the subject follows a strict internal rule set, but many seem to fall back on asking about whether society’s rules are followed, which strikes me as a different question entirely.
    Again, I get that these things aren’t lumped into a single factor arbitrarily – I have to assume (as one who trusts in the expertise of experts) that for most people, there’s strong correlation. But it isn’t there for me, and a middling Conscientiousness value doesn’t seem to capture the details. (Something which I imagine could also happen on MBTI or other type instruments, but again, for me, generally doesn’t.)
    What makes it more interesting is that the 2013 Herd Census did ask for Myers-Briggs type, and turned up over 25% as INTJ!! It’s so high that I assume there must be some sampling bias, like INTJs prefer to take surveys or the free site he linked them to isn’t great, but it’s also so high that I can’t imagine these biases accounting for all of it. It doesn’t seem like there’s any such extraordinary result in factor analyses for the herd that I’ve seen.

    1. I really need to look through the newest census a bit more closely; I’ve only had the chance to skim it. Coming from a background in ethnography, which tends to focus on attempting to gain an in-depth understanding of the thoughts of an insignificant sample size and work from that (it’s hard to do both depth and breadth), I also tend to shy away from typologies (especially the ones that are mathed into existence), or at least take them with a fairly-hefty grain of salt. While they are a super nice way of grappling with and understanding the world, it is really easy to forget that they are abstractions of all of the chaos that is the way things actually are and to think that they somehow serve as sets of rules for how things operate. The thing I like about the Brony study typology is that it came around at a time that people (bronies and non-bronies) were really needing some sort of understanding about bronies and, in many cases, the typology seems to have helped people understand some of the very general motivations of people in the herd and, because these explanations were coming from a team of psychologists, they were able to do a lot to demystify the idea of the brony to a lot of people. That being said, I personally don’t invest too much in the typology, mostly because I’m not too invested that sort of categorization beyond having someone else use it so that I can draw upon their data in the more in-depth, less statistically significant research that I focus on.

      On a side note, I also think its interesting (I mentioned it in the interview) that the typology only breaks down into five groups, since the metrics are breaking everything down to low, mid, and high values on two axes. Typically, I think of typologies like that breaking down into nine groups, rather than focusing on the highs and lows and lumping all of the kids together into a generic “other” category. I’d love to see how the trends work within the 28ish% of “mixed bronies.”

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