Essay: Creativity and Mental illness

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  • Creativity and Mental illness
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Creativity is a personality construct, or characteristic that involves originality and imagination in the creation of new ideas, as well as invention. However, this idea of creativity has not always been what we know today. It is a concept that has evolved, as with most things, over time. Through the years, it has become valuable due to its influence in business, management (Proctor, 1991), and in the attainment of economic success in many countries around the world (Davies, 2002). Thus we are able to see its importance in the continuous progress of society. However, given creativity’s role in our society, there seems to be a phenomenon(?) whereby creativity has been linked to mental illness. As Aristotle once said, “No great genius has ever existed without a strain of madness.”. This is especially evident in creative people such as musicians, artists and the like, as creativity is often linked to genius, or intelligence. This paper will explore the reasons how and why mental illness has come to be linked to creativity.


History of Mental illness and Creativity

A possible link between mental illness and creative output seem to have existed throughout history. As far back as the 4th century B.C., the connection between “divine” inspiration and altered mental state had already been made, prompting Plato to expound in the dialogue the Phaedrus: “Madness, provided it comes as the gift of heaven, is the channel by which we receive the greatest blessings… Madness comes from God, whereas sober sense is merely human.”, stating how, talent and genius that is not found in ‘normal’ people, but is due to certain anomalies in the brain. The idea of an association between creativity and mental illnesses has often been derived from anecdotes or the biographies of creative people, that shows their struggles with mental illnesses. (Beveridge and Yorston, 1999).

Indeed, a review of popular artwork and artists have shown how many of them could have been mentally troubled. Edward Munch, who painted “The Scream” in 1893, once said that “Sickness, insanity and death were the angels that surrounded my cradle and have followed me throughout my life”, showing how troubled his life was. Similarly, the famous painter Van Gogh has been posthumously diagnosed with numerous disorders such as manic depression, a condition commonly found in many creative people. Not only that, countless of famous writers have also died by suicide, such as Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, just to cite a few. Such cases seem to also support the theory that people possessing the creativity trait are also likely to suffer from mental disorders.

Associated Disorders

Studies in the past few decades have examined and support links between creativity and mental illness. A study by Andreasen (1997) on creative writers found the rate of affective disorders (such as manic depression) strikingly high. Rates of alcoholism were also higher . A study by Verhaeghen and colleagues (2005) similarly found that past depressive symptoms predicted higher divergent thinking scores and more creative interests in participants. Interestingly, they found that self-reflective rumination mediated these effects, suggesting that it may be self-rumination that lead to the development of depressive symptoms in creative people. (Verhaeghen, Joorman, & Khan, 2005).

Creativity has also found to be linked to anxiety. Rubinstein (2008) reported that patients diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or personality disorders had higher divergent-thinking fluency scores than schizophrenic patients.

Much evidence have supported the association between disorders with psychotic tendencies and creativity. Many studies have investigated a relationship between creativity and the schizophrenia spectrum (e.g., Weinstein and Graves, 2002; Fisher et al., 2004; Folley and Park, 2005). Batey and Furnham (2008) found a positive correlation between the unusual experiences and Impulsive Nonconformity dimensions of a schizotypy inventory and creativity, suggesting that these two dimensions may be the link between schizophrenia and creativity. Studies have also found higher creativity scores in patients diagnosed with bipolar disorders (e.g., Soeiro-de-Souza et al., 2011).

However, the link between psychopathology and creativity may not be as clear as previously thought. Researchers have been hesitant to establish the impact of creativity on mental illness as a proven fact, in part due to mixed results from studies studying the relationship. Silvia and Kimbrel (2009) studied the relationship between mental illness and creativity, but found that measures of anxiety, depression as well as social anxiety predicted little variance in creativity, regardless of whether creativity was viewed as divergent thinking, creative self-concepts, everyday creative behaviors, or public creative achievements.Rothenberg (1990) conducted interviews with people with creative traits, and found that there is no specific personality type that is associated with outstanding creativity. Creative people did not, contrary to popular stereotypes, display any form of extraordinary egosticism, eccentricism or rebelliousness.

Specific cognitive mechanisms

It is possible that there are certain cognitive processes and mechanisms are shared by creativity and certain mental illnesses. A number of cognitive processes involved in creative thinking have been identified by Abraham and Windmann (2007), including conceptual expansion, which is the ability to broaden the framework of already established conceptual structures , creative imagery, which is the ability to mentally visualise ideas, overcoming knowledge constraints, which describes the ability to overcome the constraints of already possessed knowledge, and insight, which is the often sudden occurance of a solution during the problem solving process.

Semantic associations

It has been suggested that an important aspect of creativity involves understanding associative pathways about semantic information and how it is related to certain contexts (Boden, 2013). Semantic processing allows us to widen our conceptual structures to involve and allow the formation of unusual and novel associations, and is thus heavily involved in conceptual expansion and overcoming knowledge constraints. However, semantic processing has also been found to be related to schizotypy. Making semantic associations between words or concepts, which is likely to be associated with verbal creativity, is related to positive schizotypy (Fisher et al., 2013), This shows how people high in the creative trait is likely to have increased semantic processing abilities, which could also make them at risk of schizophrenia.

Divergent thinking
Divergent thinking is an aspect of creative thinking, involving the creation of different, fluent, original ideas. It has always been considered fundamental to creativity(Kaufman and Sternberg, 2010). However, researchers have found that it could be a possible link between creativity and schizotypy. Eysenck’s (1993) noted that while the thought disorders and dysfunctions in schizophrenia may not be exactly identical to divergent thinking, there are some similarities between schizophrenia and creativity. One of that is the tendency to engage in over-inclusive thinking, such as delusions. Thus, he theorizes that psychoticism, a personality trait involving cold, un-empathic, aggressive, and impulsive behavior, is mediated by high divergent thinking. Certain psychologists have states that divergent thought in people with mental illnesses could in fact lead to greater creative capabilities. Associate professor of psychiatry, Gail Saltz, argued that the “wavering attention and day-dreamy state” of ADHD, for example, is also a source of creative thought.

Motivation, especially that of intrinsic motivation, is found to be particularly high in creative people such as writers and musicians. Intrinsic motivation is often associated with creative thought and behavior (Ryan & Deci 2000). For example, Prabhu and colleagues (2008) provide an interesting qualification to the relationship between openness and creativity: It is mediated by intrinsic motivation. Lack of motivation is detrimental for personal success, and extensive research have outlined the importance of motivation in the quality of creative products (Amabile, 1985). However, studies have shown that motivation could also be a shared characteristic between creativity and mental illness. Spielberger et al’s (1963) findings on bipolar patients show that they had extreme appraisals of personal success, and more than 93% of those with history of manic symptoms agreed with the statement that they “nearly always strive hard for personal achievement”. This suggests that people with creative traits, as well as bipolar and manic symptoms, could share a common trait of perfectionism and high motivation.

• ‘Loose semantic processing of information in the right hemisphere’ links schizotypical personality disorder and creativity.
• Latent inhibition and primordial thinking

Studies on the Brain
Unusual activity in the brain, particularly the frontal lobe is characteristic of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression. Studies show that hyperactivity in this region could be the factor causing unusual connections to be drawn between unrelated ideas, which also results in the delusions of schizophrenics.
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) studies have highlighted similarities in brain patterns and structure between creativity and psychopathology. In using functional magnetic resonance imaging, Fink et al (2014) have found that creative cognition and schizotypy both share a weaker deactivation of the right precuneus, suggesting that creative people, as well as schizotypal people both include more stimuli in their mental processes than normal people do. This supports the idea that creativity and psychosis tendencies could share certain mental processes.

In the same vein, in Jung et al’s (2010) study of white matter integrity in a sample of young healthy volunteers, it was found that lower levels of Fractional Anisotropy of the left inferior white matter were positively correlated with their performance on divergent thinking tasks. Likewise, there are studies (Sussmann et al., 2009) that have also found reduced fractional anisotropy in schizophrenic and bipolar patients in similar brain regions, demonstrating potential overlap between the neural substances of both creativity and psychopathology.

Therefore, it can be observed from brain studies that there are indeed several similarities between creative domains and thinking, and psychopathology, especially that of schizotypy. This adds to the idea that creative people could be more prone to mental disorders, due to sharing similar brain structure and neural substrates.

Genetic/neurobiological factors
Speculation that creativity could have a genetic basis began in the nineteenth century, when Lombroso speculated that genius could be a “hereditary trait” transmitted in families, along with mental illnesses (Lombroso 1891). Indeed, genetic studies on creativity have shown that creativity has a strong neurological basis (Ellis, 1926).
A study by Stafansson and colleagues (2015) investigated creative professionals who were also members of art societies, and found that they had higher polygenic risk scores for psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Therefore, it was concluded that polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder predict creativity, and suggested that creativity and psychosis could share genetic roots. Specifically, it has been hypothesized that systems involved in dopaminergic activity could be a factor in influencing creativity. For example, Reuter et al. (2006)found creativity to be significantly associated with polymorphisms of the dopamine D2 receptor gene (DRD2). Mayseless et al., (2013) found similar results with the dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4), which primary role is in mediating synaptic dopamine signaling, and which the 7R variant is commonly associated with creative behaviors such as novelty-seeking (Ebstein et al., 1996). In the study, the DRD4-7R genotype was found to have significant effects on creativity (defined by Divergent Thinking scores), and its two components: fluency and flexibility, supporting the relationship between creativity and dopamine genetic variant. However, other studies have also shown that the same gene, DRD4-7R is implicated in mental disorders such as increased impulsivity in ADHD patients (Langley et al., 2004) Furthermore, processing in dopaminergic function networks and activity have been linked to both positive and negative psychotic symptoms (Talvik et al., 2006; Cousins et al., 2009).

Family Studies
Studies of creative people and their family have revealed connections between the two that promote the genetic link between creativity and mental illnesses. Researchers found that relatives of schizophrenic patients had unusually creative jobs and hobbies (Kauffman, Grunebaum, Cohler & Gamer,1979). Andreasen’s (1997) study on writers found that as well as the writers having a higher rate of affective diseases, their first-degree relatives also had a disproportionately higher rate of mental illness, especially that of affective disorders. In an icelandic sample, Karlsson(1984) found that the biological relatives of schizophrenics were more likely than people in the general population to be recognized for their work in creative profession, as well as scholarly excellence. Thus, it can be seen that

• And have a neurobiological basis. (lecture 3)
• Not linked to genetics :

Environmental/societal factors?
It is possible that there are societal and environmental factors influencing the link between creativity and mental illness. In the society, there are often stereotypes and expectations imposed on creative jobs and people, that could amplify the likelihood that higher rates of mental illness are found in these people.
The label of “mad geniuses” have been a popular notion that has gained strength over time. This was perpetuated by many case studies of famous creative people that have exhibited signs of a troubled mind, from photographers like Diane Arbus, painters like Mark Rothko, and singers like Kurt Cobain, who have commit suicide at young ages. Stories about the life of these people are often highly publicized, leading people to draw a connection between creativity and mental illnesses. This is especially so if the artists are prominent figures widely known by the general public.
We must also consider the possibility that this label have created some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy for people in creative professions. Lord Byron, a renowned poet in the 18th century, created a cult of ‘tortured artists’. He proclaims that artistic people “ are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched”. This implies that to be artistic, or creative, one has to have some form of disorder or psychopathology. This idea was very influential for many Romantic artists at the time, who embraced the image of being a mad artist, and often tried to inculcate eccentricity so that they could be seen as more creative. This association and notion that madness is vital for creativity could lead to those who have serious mental disorders to avoid seeking treatment in fear that it may diminish their talent and gifts (Piirto, 2003), leading to severe consequences and poor prognosis.

Another factor that may increase the likelihood of mental illness in creative people could be that of the hardships that they are more susceptible to. In society, artists and musicians often face rejection and failure. Numerous famous artists such as Van Gogh, Monet and Vermeer had faced derision and rejection from both the public and art critics in their society at the time, and they often lived in abject poverty due to being unable to sell their artwork. Most of the time, they only gained fame after their death. Creative people with mental illnesses are also often stigmatized by those around them. Divergence, a vital trait of creativity, is very similar to Eysenck’s Psychoticism, which classifies non-conformity, impulsivity, low agreeableness, and low conscientiousness, which can all add to the image that artists are eccentric and dysfunctional. This then leads to people avoiding them, as they are less willing to work with and interact with them, as they consider them being risky and susceptible to disorders Hinshaw, 2007; Leff & Warner, 2006). Facing such rejection and social isolation could have a negative impact on mental health, such as loss of self-esteem, depression (CITE) which is a normal response to rejection and failure.

The influence of culture is also a possible factor in determining the possibility of higher rates of mental illness in artists in musician in the society. For example, common creative careers such as artist and musicians are not regarded as ‘proper’ jobs in asian societies. For example, studies have shown that Chinese people like to identify characteristics such as “contribution to the society,” “inspiring to other people,” and “be appreciated by other people (Rudowicz & Hui, 1997; Rudowicz & Yue, 2000). Their notion of creativity might not apply that much to the kind of creativity that is more evident in that of the performing arts. The chinese notion of creativity in many ways equals perfection and excellence that usually culminates achievements with a significant contribution to the field they have chosen to pursue (Niu et al., 2002). Thus, there is a focus on success, and more emphasis on the pragmatic aspects of creativity.
Therefore it is evident that societal factors and the acceptance of art and creative products also makes a difference in the likelihood of these creative producers developing mental illnesses.

Limitations in research
Even though it is tempting to subscribe to the view creativity and mental illness are linked, there are several limitations in the current literature that prevents us from making a decisive statement. The concept of ‘creativity’ itself is also very broadly defined, which further complicates the way it is approached.
Creativity is a broad construct that has been defined and operationalized in various different ways in the studies that examine it. It is hard to come up with a clear, examinable definition of creativity, most likely because it is composed of various facets (Dietrich et al., 2010), and is influenced by a wide array of developmental and social experiences. Thus, in order for research to meaningful look at creativity, it should take these influences into account. However, many studies examine creativity in terms of a unitary construct, allowing more reliable and less complex measurements of creativity. Review of studies on creativity show that creativity is often broadly categorised as divergent thinking, artistic creativity, and insight. However, creativity is much more complex than that.
Numerous other studies also use occupation to classify people as creative, e.g. Andreasen’s study (2007), where participants were considered creative by their occupations such as journalist, musician or dancer. Such a classification is often subjective as it restricts creativity, testing only certain kinds of creativity and not capturing the diverse range of the types of creativity. Jobs such as engineer or doctor may not fit into the typical concept of creativity, but that does not mean that people who hold these jobs are not creative in other ways. The Andreasen study also defined people as being creative through their creative achievements, or accolades for the creative output. This taps into eminent, or Big-C creativity, which is different from Little-C creativity, which measures creativity that is observed in everyday life.

The question of whether creativity is linked to mental illness is extremely broad due to the complexity of the concept of creativity. Numerous studies point to such a conclusion, but it is impossible to say that it is definitive due to varying operationalisation as well as limited scope of the studies. In order to study creativity in its entirety, if that is possible, a clear framework and definition is required. There should also be clearer questions and research ai Furthermore, the implications of finding a true link between creativity and mental illness are __. If mental illness indeed results in higher creativity, should we still treat or decrease likelihood of these mental disorders, at the risk of limiting the
• Creativity is a broad consturct
• How studies define creativity
• Subjective
• Eminent creativity often studied
• Mixed results
Judging ‘creativity’
• (Hinshaw, 2007; Leff & Warner, 2006)
• “Creativity” is a broad construct that has been defined and operationalized in various ways across the studies that have attempted to examine it. This variety is due to the fact that creativity is likely composed of various facets (Dietrich and Kanso, 2010), but has often been referred to as if it is a unitary construct (see Glazer, 2009, for discussion)
• Clear definition and framework needed.
• Sampling creative people?

• Covariance
• Sensation seeking trait- abuse drugs, alochol.

• Many studies point to a connection, but results are not definitive.
• May be a gift?,.,.

creativity and mental illness
Asking whether creativity is linked to mental illness is like asking whether there is a dog breed that fits your personality or whether there is a journal that will publish your dissertation study—the sheer number of possibilities makes us reluctant to simply say no. Both creativity and mental illness are vast, abstract concepts. There are many disorders and many domains of creativity: crossing the different disorders with the different creative domains yields a massive Disorder by Creativity matrix. This huge matrix can be multiplied if researchers believe that both mental illness and creativity can vary in amount, not just in kind.

. More focused questions—such as questions concerning specific disorders, domains, developmental periods, and levels—are more likely to illuminate how creativity and mental illness intersect, if at al

If treatment of mental illness can indeed hinder artistic innova- tion or output, then we have a lot to lose from overmedicating future Woolfs or Munchs.

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