The Psychology of Edgar Allan Poe

By Neuroskeptic | October 23, 2012 1:46 pm

A paper by psychology undergrad Erica Giammarco offers a look at the mind that gave us The Raven and The Masque of the Red Death: Edgar Allan Poe: A Psychological Profile

Poe lost his mother to tuberculosis at the age of 2; he was then adopted, but his foster mother died young as well. He enrolled at the University of Virginia, but became involved in gambling and had to ask his foster father for money; they argued, and at the age of 20 Poe was cut off from his family. He married, but his wife suffered frequent illnesses and died at the age of 25 in 1847. By this time Poe was drinking heavily. He died after collapsing ‘drunk and delirious’ in 1849.

According to Giammarco:

Poe was described as a mischievous child, playing practical jokes on classmates and teachers… One teacher was quoted as saying that Poe had an “…excitable temperament with a great deal of self-esteem.” This grandiose self view would remain consistent throughout Poe’s life; however, Poe was defensive and threatened by negative comments. This is consistent with a narcissistic self-view rather than healthy self-esteem.

Although successful in his studies, he did not have many friends and wrote that school was a “miserable” experience. Classmates stated that he was incredibly defensive and did not allow others to get close…

As Poe aged his health deteriorated and he continued to drink heavily. He was described by coworkers and family as chronically melancholic, acquiring the nickname ‘the man who never smiles’… Poe had a great deal of pride, evident in his refusal to accept money when he and his wife were both sick and unable to work…

An examination of the letters Poe wrote to family reveals that he was a dramatic individual. He often used excessive, theatrical language, poignantly captured in his statement, “I do believe God gave me a spark of genius, but He quenched it in misery”

When describing Poe in terms of the Five-Factor Model of personality we can conclude that he would be high on Neuroticism – evident by the constant nervous anxiety he was said to have, as well as his melancholy and irritability. Poe would also be described as being low in Agreeableness and Conscientiousness since he was argumentative, untrusting, and lacked self-control (i.e. his drinking, his failure to pursue education).

Poe actually crops up several times in the medical literature. Other examples of scientific anthropoelogy include…

ResearchBlogging.orgGiammarco, E. (2013). Edgar Allan Poe: A psychological profile Personality and Individual Differences, 54 (1), 3-6 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2012.07.027

  • Anonymous

    From reading his stories I always got the feeling he had Aspergers.

    • devlishanjel13

      i think he had borderline personality disorder which can seem like asperger (or at least he would def fall under the cluster b personality disorder possibly crossed with cluster c for the anxiety). however, in asperger the individual just doesn’t know about proper behavior in certain social situations. like sheldon cooper from the big bang theory and they have to be taught how to be bahve. whereas in bpd the individual does know what they should be doing but they just don’t care which is a psychopathic trait and they get a rise out of pushing ppl’s buttons and being shocking. it’s all attention-seeking behavior and about knowing that they are in control when they push your buttons. all in all, really miserable fucked up sadistic ppl. don’t ever get into a relationship with a cluster b and try to steer clear of them even when it comes to having friendships. they are like a soul sucking giant black leech. ~xox~

      • Horace Suffredini

        That is a horrible, horrible way to represent b cluster people. Quite a few dont realize that theyre even doing that. I had to go through dialectical behavioral therapy twice and its a lot of work but it helps. We’re not horrible people by default and thats an awful stance to have and very unhelpful for b cluster people to get support.

  • LokaSamasta

    *cough* Goth.

  • indigorhythms

    He seemed to display characteristics of hypomania and depression. I wonder if having opposing traits like that heightens creativity?

  • Ivana Fulli MD

    Anonymous 23 10 12 at16:21

    I would bet for Marphan syndrome and bullying of a very highly gifted and twice orphaned of a mother child with later alcohol addiction social symptoms.

    Anyway, I find the psychological autopsies a fraud in general…

  • E

    Poe is also considered a racist. According to biographer Kenneth Silverman, he disapproved of abolition believing black people were inferior to whites although his views could also be seen as typical of the times. He was though by all accounts a difficult and in many ways an unpleasant individual with few friends and limited talent as a writer.

  • Edgar Jaimison

    Poe was bipolar. And yes, indigorhythms, mania and depression spur creativity because they place a person in the ultra-dramatic extremes of emotional states: either happiness, confidence, and grandiosity, or pessimism, anxiety, depression. You feel amazing and invincible, or terrible and worthless, and hypersensitive.

    One of the few good things about these extreme moods is that they can really make you 'think outside the box.' They can make you a better actor. Or just a drama queen. Brooding makes you observative. Memories get remembered well when they occur in conjunction with high levels of emotional arousal.

    Check out Kay Redfield Jamison's book: “Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.”
    Jamison is a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School. She links bipolar disorder to creativity and she includes Poe in her directory of great artists who fit the diagnostic criteria for mania, hypomania, and/or depression.

    He's in there with Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and of course, Plath.

    Dr. Jamison also literally wrote the med school textbook on: “Manic Depressive Illness”.

    The undergrad who wrote that paper
    rattled off symptoms that are blatantly indicative of bipolar disorder, but she was obtuse to the easy fit of the label. She failed to connect the parts to the right sum.

    • Josie

      what’s your evidence that he’s bipolar? he’s just a depressed and disenchanted of his life.

  • Ivana Fulli MD

    Edgar jaimison,

    And what about Edgar Allan Poe being a woman with PMT syndrome so severe that it can pass for bipolar syndrome?

    • Galen MD

      Well, this is certainly the first time I have seen anyone propose the case that Edgar Allan Poe was a woman.

  • E

    Yes that tash is a dead giveaway

  • Psychologist nyc

    It’s difficult to acquire knowledgeable folks with this topic, nevertheless, you seem like there’s more you are referring to! Thanks

  • Cecelia

    He is perfect.

    and I can image why he had problems if he did, because everyone around him.. died.

    he was brilliant and kind deep down.

    the drugs and drinking enchanced his physcological problems though.

    But we all have disorderly mental problems, so… yeah.

    He’s perfect.

    • Secret Name

      The alcohol (and possibly drugs) most likely exacerbated certain symptoms of his illness, which is most likely bipolar disorder, and alcohol certainly would have amplified his emotions and drama, however, his drinking was most likely the result of his mental illness in the first place, as more than 60% of bipolar people struggle with substance abuse.

  • ☣Jame5 L1an9☣

    all I will say here is that he was quite an interesting man with his own set of issues. Does anyone else notice that he constantly references the Raven in many of his writings???

  • devlishanjel13

    she’s right. if he lived now, he would totally be a goth. after all, goths worship him. lol … goths are very narcissistic…they tend to have overly inflated tiny little egos aka delusions of grandeur. they walk around with this elitist attitude b/c they are overcompensating for feeling insecure. hence the way they look! the goth look is like a mask they use to hide behind. i’m always partying at goth events b/c that’s the only place i can hear and dance to music that i like and i love the esthetics as well and i know that no guy is gonna try to grope me. i guess the men’s insecurity works in the favor of females in that way. i used to think goths were better than mainstream ppl and that they are smarter. however, over the years i’ve been proven wrong. they are no better or different. they are the same just dressed in black and listen to a different kind of music. they basically reject one cultural norm only to conform to another set of cultural norms. i can’t wait to have a goth jump down my throat now over this comment. lol
    as for poe, he would def fall under a cluster b personality disorder.

    • Julie Steiner

      Going a bit too far, I think. Maybe they just like the way the goth style looks, like someone who wears purple or wears their hair up just because they like it? It’s really not any different in regards to that.

      -Not goth, but do like the dark styles it typically has, as well.

      • Milo Yappynappynopenis




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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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