Creativity and Mental Illness
There may be an overlap between the genetic components of creativity and mental illness, according to a new study.
In the study, researchers looked at genetic material from more than 86,000 people in Iceland and identified genetic variants that were linked with an increased risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in order to creativity and mental illness. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have been linked with creative minds, but the theory that there is an overlap between certain mental disorders and creativity doesn’t just stop there.
The investigators then looked for these variants in a group of more than 1,000 people who were members of national societies of artists, including visual artists, writers, actors, dancers and musicians in Iceland.
The study revealed that the people in these artistic societies were 17 percent more likely to carry those variants linked with the mental health conditions than were people in the general population, who were not members of these societies.
“The results of this study should not have come as a surprise, because to be creative, you have to think differently from the crowd,” study author Kari Stefansson, the founder and CEO of deCODE, a genomic analysis company, said in a statement. “And we had previously shown that carriers of genetic factors that predispose to schizophrenia do so.”
In a previous study, published by Journal of Psychiatric Research in 2013, researchers found that when they compared all people working in creative professions with people working in other professions, the creative people were not more likely than people in other professions to be diagnosed with psychiatric disorders overall. However, the creative professionals were at an increased risk of having bipolar disorder, and in addition, people who were writers were more likely to be diagnosed with psychiatric disorders in general.
It is not clear whether the genetic link found in the study may apply to people who feel they are creative, or only to those people who actually produce high-quality creative work.
“Creative thinking occurs in rational, conscious frames of mind, not altered or transformed states,” Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said. Therefore, having a full-fledged psychosis, in which a person’s rationality is changed, does not contribute to creativity.
However, Manevitz continued, if someone had a family member who had a serious psychiatric disorder, the genetic variants that this person carries may translate into a “diluted” form of a mental illness, that could in fact be conducive to creativity, if the traits are easy enough that they do not interfere with the person’s ability think rationally.
The study was published on June 8th 2015 in the Journal Nature Neuroscience.