|MadSci Network: Neuroscience|
“Great wits are sure to madness near allied and thin partitions do their bounds divide” (John Dryden, 1681); “We poets in our youth begin in gladness but thereof comes in the end despondency and madness” (William Wordsworth). As you can see you are not the first person to notice a connection between creativity and depression or other forms of mental illness. In fact Aristotle spoke about this centuries ago. Some of the famous poets, writers and artists who suffered from depression, bipolar disorder or other forms of psychological disturbances include Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, Vincent van Gogh, Mark Twain, Hermann Hesse and Georgia O’Keeffe. There are of course countless other examples. There does seem to be a connection between creativity and some forms of mental illness (for example see Kay Jamison’s article entitled Manic- Depressive Illness and Creativity, Scientific American, February, 1995 or go to this URl http://www.schizophrenia.com/ami/cnsmr/creative.html). Recent studies suggest that many highly creative persons suffer from mood disorders or alcoholism and also have a high rate of suicide. Of course, as with other types of correlations we have to be careful about jumping to cause and effect conclusions. For example, it may be that some mood disorders foster creativity or it may be that the lifestyle of creative persons is more likely to lead to depression. On the other hand, a third variable may be responsible for both a person’s creativity and increased vulnerability to emotional disturbances, and thus there may be no casual link between creativity and mental illness. It is clear that not all people that are have mood disorders are creative and it is also clear that not all creative people have mood disorders. So the answer is probably somewhere in-between. Jamison speculates that the symptoms of some mood disorders such as manic depression do foster creativity. For example, a manic episode may lead to increased word fluency or frequency of thoughts. People who are in a manic episode tend to be very impulsive and “risk takers”, and perhaps some of these behaviors are more likely to lead to creative endeavors. Also, people in a manic phase tend to function with very little sleep so they can work very intensely during these times. The highly emotional and introspective nature of many creative persons may also enhance the ability to be creative. On the other hand, Robert Weisberg (author of Creativity, 1992), suggests that there may be other reasons to explain this connection. For example, manic people may simply be able to function better in artistic occupations as compared to other types of jobs. Similarly, the sheer number of products that manic people produce may increase the likelihood that some of these works (but not all) will be creative. In any event, although there is a lot of evidence pointing to a connection between creativity and certain mental disorders, the exact relationship is not yet known. Most of the studies that have been done in this area tend to be correlational in nature, and thus cause some problems in interpretation. At the same time a true experimental design (with random assignment, manipulation of variables and experimental control) may be very difficult to carry out for pratical and ethical reasons. However, here are a few additional sources of information that address your question and that you may find interesting. http://www.knowledge.co.uk/frontiers/sf098/sf098p16.htm http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/serendipia/Serendipia-Preti.html http://www.captus.com/Information/tocpsyc1.htm
Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Neuroscience.