Creativity and Insanity

Here is some interesting information I found on the link between creativity and insanity.

A study at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee has found that people known as “schizotypes” may be able to function normally and still have enhanced creativity due to their schizophrenic tendencies. It seems that their greater creativity comes from using more of the right side of the brain than most of us use. They seem to be able to walk that proverbial fine line between insanity and genius.

Schizotypes are generally considered somewhere between normal and insane. They often have their own unique eccentricities, but not the more extreme symptoms of schizophrenics, such as hallucinations and paranoia. They may think in unusual ways, dress differently, and have odd routines.

The evidence of a link between creativity and mental illness has mostly been anecdotal in the past, although there have been some studies showing correlation. The Vanderbilt study, on the other hand, used brain-imaging technology to look at the creative process. They started with a definition of creativity as the ability to create something new from existing things and ideas, and did two experiments to look at and compare what was going on in the brains of schizotypes, schizophrenics and normal control subjects.

For example, subjects were asked to think of uses for a needle and thread. Both the normal subjects and the schizophrenic ones had fairly mundane ideas, such as sewing. On the other hand, one schizotype suggested that a poor person could use the thread to a ring for his fiancee, or use the needle to write “I love you” in sand.

There was a marked tendency for the schizotypes to have more creative ideas. This was also true in the second experiment, when the groups were again asked to think of creative ways to use household objects. This time, however, all subjects had their brains monitored. researchers used a brain-imaging technology called near-infrared optical spectroscopy.

The brain scans showed that all subjects used both sides of the brain when coming up with creative ideas. But the activity was much higher in the brain’s right hemisphere in the schizotypes. Whether they have greater access to that hemisphere or more efficient communication between the two sides isn’t clear. What is clear, is that they are thinking differently than the general population.

Note: This study on the link between insanity and creativity was reported in 2005 on LiveScience.com, and was detailed in the journal Schizophrenia Research.


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All too often, creativity goes hand in hand with mental illness. Now we’re starting to understand why. Roger Dobson reports.

By Roger Dobson / Source: The Independent

At first glance, Einstein, Salvador Dali, Tony Hancock, and Beach Boy Brian Wilson would seem to have little in common. Their areas of physics, modern art, comedy, and rock music are light years apart.

So what, if anything, could possibly link minds that gave the world the theory of relativity, great surreal art, iconic comedy, and songs about surfing?

According to new research, psychosis could be the answer. Creative minds in all kinds of areas, from science to poetry, and mathematics to humour, may have traits associated with psychosis. Such traits may allow the unusual and sometimes bizarre thought processes associated with mental illness to fuel creativity.

The theory is based on the idea that there is no clear dividing line between the healthy and the mentally ill. Rather, there is a continuum, with some people having psychotic traits without having the debilitating symptoms.

Mental illnesses have been around for thousands of years. Evolutionary theory suggests that in order for them to be still here, there must be some kind of survival advantage to them. If they were wholly bad, it’s argued, natural selection would have seen them off long ago. In some cases the advantage is clear.

Anxiety, for example, can be a mental illness with severe symptoms and consequences, but it is also a trait that at a non-clinical level has survival advantages. In healthy proportions, it keeps us alert and on our toes when threats are sensed

It’s now increasingly being argued that there are survival advantages to others forms of illness, too, because of the links between the traits associated with them and creativity.

“It can be difficult for people to reconcile mental illness with the idea that traits may not be disabling. While people accept that there are health benefits to anxiety, they are more wary of schizophrenia and manic depression,” says Professor Gordon Claridge, emeritus professor of abnormal psychology at Oxford University, who has edited a special edition of the journal Personality and Individual Differences, looking at the links between mental illness and creativity. “There is now a feeling that these traits have survived because they have some adaptive value. To be mildly manic depressive or mildly schizophrenic brings a flexibility of thought, an openness, and risk-taking behaviour, which does have some adaptive value in creativity. The price paid for having those traits is that some will have mental illness.”

Research is providing support for the idea that creative people are more likely to have traits associated with mental illness. One study found that the incidence of mood disorders, suicide and institutionalisation to be 20 times higher among major British and Irish poets in the 200 years up to 1800.

Other studies have shown that psychiatric patients perform better in tests of abstract thinking. Another study, based on 291 eminent and creative men in different fields, found that 69 per cent had a mental disorder of some kind. Scientists were the least affected, while artists and writers had increased diagnoses of psychosis.

“Most theorists agree that it is not the full-blown illness itself, but the milder forms of psychosis that are at the root of the association between creativity and madness,” says Emilie Glazer, experimental psychologist and author of one of the Oxford journal papers. “The underlying traits linked with mild psychopathology enhance creative ability. In severe form, they are debilitating.”

Research is also showing that traits associated with different mental illnesses have different effects on creativity. The creativity needed to develop the theory of relativity, is, for example, very different from that required for producing surreal paintings, or poetry.

Research is now homing in on whether the psychosis that is linked to different types of creativity comes through schizophrenia and schizotypy traits, through manic-depressive or cyclothymic traits, or traits associated with the autism and Asperger’s disorders.

A study at the University of Newcastle found significant differences between artistically creative people and mathematicians. While the artists showed schizotypy traits, mathematicians did not, and that fits in with the idea that mathematics and engineering, which require attention to detail, are closer to the autistic traits than to psychosis.

“Affective disorder perpetuates creativity limited to the normal,” says Glazer, “while the schizoid person is predisposed to a sense of detachment from the world, free from social boundaries and able to consider alternative frameworks, producing creativity within the revolutionary sphere. Newton and Einstein’s schizotypal orientation, for instance, enabled their revolutionary stamp in the sciences.”

The stereotypical images of mad scientists working alone and preferring foaming beakers to friends, abound in literature, and reflect a popular perception of the aloof, detached and obsessive genius. But the idea goes back even further. 2000 years ago in Rome, the philosopher Seneca was obviously already on the case when he wrote: “There is no great genius without a tincture of madness.”

It’s no joke: Comedians and depression

Heard the one about the man who went to the doctor to get help for his depression? He’s told to go and see a show with a well known comedian who would make him laugh and lift his spirits. “But that’s me,” says the patient. “I’m the comedian.”

The joke, related by Rod Martin, author of ‘The Psychology of Humor – An Integrative Approach’, is apparently something of a favourite among comedians, who are known to be prone to depression, from the late Tony Hancock and Spike Milligan, to Stephen Fry and Paul Merton.

One theory is that humour is developed in response to depression, and that it works as a coping mechanism. One study, reported by Martin, looked at 55 male and 14 female comedians, all famous and successful. It found that comedians tended to be superior in intelligence, angry, suspicious, and depressed.

In addition, their early lives were characterised by suffering, isolation, and feelings of deprivation, and, he says, they used humour as a defence against anxiety, converting their feel ings of suppressed rage from physical to verbal aggression. “The comedic skills required for a successful career may well be developed as a means of compensating for earlier psychological losses and difficulties,” says Martin. A second study did not find higher levels, although comedians had significantly greater preoccupation with themes of good and evil, unworthiness, self-deprecation, and duty and responsibility.

“A significant proportion of comedians do seem to suffer more with depression,” says Professor Gordon Claridge, emeritus professor of abnormal psychology at Oxford University. “Comedy seems to act as a way of dealing with depression. I think there is an emotionality and cognitive style that goes along with these depressive disorders which seems to feed creativity.”

Salvador Dali was not just a great artist. He also met the criteria for several psychosis diagnoses, a mixture of schizophrenic and depressive. He may also have been paranoid, as well having antisocial, histrionic, and narcissistic disorders. “Dalí and his contribution to the history of art highlights that abnormality is not necessarily disagreeable – or to be so readily dismissed as a sign of neurological disease. For without his instability, Dalí may not have created the great art that he did,” says Caroline Murphy of Oxford.

a collection of autobiographical essays that describes the role that manic depression plays in his creativity

Catching you up (13)

by JustEliza on 23 April 2010

“There’s new writing on my blackboard. “Do not self-censor.”

I don’t mean say and do everything that comes to mind. But everything deserves due consideration. When I am used to living so privately, so carefully, so avoidantly… I need to stretch. I need to ask myself: “What is really stopping me?”

“What am I trying to hide?”

The memories, those little wisps, they are starting to interject themselves into my days again. Breathless, disjointed pauses. Just one unified moment of taste touch smell sound… sight. One hour, researching NHS guidelines. One millisecond, Lost friendship. Remember. And it lingers, that one millisecond of nothing, while the rest of the hour fades away.

They are coming, more and more frequent. The answer is two months. Two months of stirring up dust. Two months new. And then the brain starts flipping channels.

Tonight I walked in place.

I will forget. I will.”

“If I can’t feel, if I can’t move, if I can’t think, and I can’t care, then what conceivable point is there in living?”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)
“There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you’re high it’s tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones. Shyness goes, the right words and gestures are suddenly there, the power to captivate others a felt certainty. There are interests found in uninteresting people. Sensuality is pervasive and the desire to seduce and be seduced irresistible. Feelings of ease, intensity, power, well-being, financial omnipotence, and euphoria pervade one’s marrow. But, somewhere, this changes. The fast ideas are far too fast, and there are far too many; overwhelming confusion replaces clarity. Memory goes. Humor and absorption on friends’ faces are replaced by fear and concern. Everything previously moving with the grain is now against– you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and enmeshed totally in the blackest caves of the mind. You never knew those caves were there. It will never end, for madness carves its own reality.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“Mother, who has an absolute belief that it is not the cards that one is dealt in life, it is how one plays them, is, by far, the highest card I was dealt.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“I compare myself with my former self, not with others. Not only that, I tend to compare my current self with the best I have been, which is when I have been midly manic. When I am my present “normal” self, I am far removed from when I have been my liveliest, most productive, most intense, most outgoing and effervescent. In sort, for myself, I am a hard act to follow.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be soon,” but you know you won’t.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“We all build internal sea walls to keep at bay the sadnesses of life and the often overwhelming forces within our minds. In whatever way we do this–through love, work, family, faith, friends, denial, alcohol, drugs, or medication, we build these walls, stone by stone, over a lifetime. ”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“the intensity, glory, and absolute assuredness if my mind’s flight made it very difficult for me to believe once i was better, that the illness was one i should willingly give up….moods are such an essential part of the substance of life, of one’s notion of oneself, that even psychotic extremes in mood and behavior somehow can be seen as temporary, even understandable reactions to what life has dealt….even though the depressions that inevitably followed nearly cost me my life.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison

“Love, like life, is much stranger and far more complicated than one is brought up to believe.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“Somehow, like so many people who get depressed, we felt our depressions were more complicated and existentially based than they actually were.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“But money spent while manic doesn’t fit into the Internal Revenue Service concept of medical expense or business loss. So after mania, when most depressed, you’re given excellent reason to be even more so.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“No amount of love can cure madness or unblacken one’s dark moods. Love can help, it can make the pain more tolerable, but, always, one is beholden to medication that may or may not always work and may or may not be bearable”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“Love has, at its best, made the inherent sadness of life bearable, and its beauty manifest.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“Chaos and intensity are no substitute for lasting love, nor are they necessarily an improvement on real life.”

— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“I look back over my shoulder and feel the presence of an intense young girl and then a volatile and disturbed young woman, both with high dreams and restless, romantic aspirations”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it, an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure, yet one that brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering and, not infrequently, suicide.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“No pill can help me deal with the problem of not wanting to take pills; likewise, no amount of psychotherapy alone can prevent my manias and depressions. I need both. It is an odd thing, owing life to pills, one’s own quirks and tenacities, and this unique, strange, and ultimately profound relationship called psychotherapy”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“I was bitterly resentful, but somehow greatly relieved. And I respected him enormously for his clarity of thought, his obvious caring, and his unwillingness to equivocate in delivering bad news.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“Each way to suicide is its own: intensely private, unknowable, and terrible. Suicide will have seemed to its perpetrator the last and best of bad possibilities, and any attempt by the living to chart this final terrain of life can be only a sketch, maddeningly incomplete ”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide)

“It is tempting when looking at the life of anyone who has committed suicide to read into the decision to die a vastly complex web of reasons; and, of course, such complexity is warranted. No one illness or event causes suicide; and certainly no one knows all, or perhaps even most, of the motivations behind the killing of the self. But psychopathology is almost always there, and its deadliness is fierce. Love, success, and friendship are not always enough to counter the pain and destructiveness of severe mental illness ”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide)

“Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy ”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide)

“Looking at suicide—the sheer numbers, the pain leading up to it, and the suffering left behind—is harrowing. For every moment of exuberance in the science, or in the success of governments, there is a matching and terrible reality of the deaths themselves: the young deaths, the violent deaths, the unnecessary deaths ”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide)

“Love, like life, is much stranger and far more complicated than one is brought up to believe”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“Normal people are not always boring. On the contrary. Volatility and passion, although often more romantic and enticing, are not intrinsically preferable to a steadiness of experience and feeling about another person (nor are they incompatible). These are beliefs, of course, that one has intuitively about friendships and family; they become less obvious when caught up in a romantic life that mirrors, magnifies, and perpetuates one’s own mercurial emotional life and temperament. It has been with my pleasure, and not-inconsiderable pain, that I have learned about the possibilities of love – its steadiness and its growth – from my husband, the man with whom I had lived for almost a decade. ”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“As best I could make out, having never heard the term until I arrived in California, being a WASP meant being mossbacked, lockjawed, rigid, humorless, cold, charmless, insipid, less than penetratingly bright, but otherwise—and inexplicably—to be envied.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“The assumption that rigidly rejecting words and phrases that have existed for centuries will have much impact on public attitudes is rather dubious.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

“The awareness of the damage done by severe mental illness—to the individual himself and to others—and fears that it may return again play a decisive role in many suicides ”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide)

“When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace. ‘This is my last experiment,’ wrote a young chemist in his suicide note. ‘If there is any eternal torment worse than mine I’ll have to be shown.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide)

“Conditions of thought, memory, and desire, persuaded by impulse and irrationality, are influenced as well by personal aesthetics and private meanings.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide)

“We all move uneasily within our restraints.”
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)