Creativity and Feelings of Madness Closely Linked in Most People

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In his Scientific American blog, Scott Barry Kaufman discusses a study that provides new perspectives on the controversial question of the links between “mental illness” and creative genius. Basically, writes Kaufman, when we broaden the spectrum of whom we’re looking at, it seems that everyone is partly mad and partly creative, and the two perspectives are intertwined in all of us.

“Once we leave the narrowed confines of the clinical setting and enter the larger general population, we see that mental disorders are far from categorical,” writes Kaufman. “Every single healthy human being lies somewhere on every psychopathology spectrum… What’s more, we each show substantial fluctuations on each of these dimensions each day, and across our lifespan.”

Kaufman says the authors of a new study in Frontiers in Psychology found that creativity and creative achievement were significantly associated with both psychoticism and hypomania.

“Psychoticism is characterized by impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and proneness to psychosis,” writes Kaufman. “Many of the items on the psychoticism scale measure oddness of thought and behavior, such as ‘Other people seem to think my behavior is weird’, ‘My thoughts are strange and unpredictable’, and ‘My thoughts often don’t make sense to others.’ In a clinical setting, extremely high levels of psychoticism may be cause for a diagnosis of mental illness, but this finding suggests that in the normally varying general population, there is an association between these characteristics and real-world creative achievement.”

“Creativity was also associated with hypomania,” continues Kaufman, “a mood state characterized by high energy levels, rapid mood fluctuations, and racing thoughts. Some items on the hypomania scale include ‘I am frequently in such high spirits that I can’t concentrate on any one thing for too long’, ‘I have such a wide range of interests that I often don’t know what to do next’, and ‘Sometimes ideas and insights come to me so fast that I cannot express them all’.”

Kaufman explains that “creative achievement is associated with the ability to broaden attention and have a ‘leaky’ mental filter. In other words, perhaps the very same characteristics that may hinder performance on IQ tests and standardized academic tests (e.g., broad attention, impulsivity, daydreaming, and fantasy-proneness) are the very same characteristics that increase the chances of real-life creative achievement.”

The Real Link Between the Psychopathology Spectrum and the Creativity Spectrum (Beautiful Minds, Scientific American Blogs, September 15, 2014)

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Untreated symptoms of Creative Disorder harm not only the individual suffering from it, but the Community as a whole. Healthy, non-creative people are made to feel inadequate or stupid when exposed to difficult ideas or challenging art, and the Economy as a whole suffers when people afflicted with this insidious Organic Brain Disease to follow their own fanciful pursuits rather than consuming Professionally Manufactured Entertainment Products. And there are mountains of evidence of a correlation between Creative Disorder and extreme violence. Adolph Hitler dabbled in painting, Saddam Hussein was a novelist and Charles Manson was a would-be “Rock” singer. Need I say more?

    Sadly, digital technology and the world wide web have incited Creative Disorder in countless millions more previously Healthy Citizens by bringing the tools of writing, film making, photo manipulation, etc, to their fingertips. Particularly alarming is the growth of sites like YouTube, which actually has a “Creator hub” that bills itself as “Your home for resources to help create better content, build fan bases and turn your creativity into a career.” (!) A sane society does not arm baboons with flamethrowers, not should it put creative instruments in the hands of average Americans, who should be content with watching Dancing with the Stars and not attempt to dance themselves.

    Clinicians would do well to impress on teachers and caregivers the urgency of Identifying and Treating children who display symptoms of Creative Disorder before tragedy strikes.

    • jw_arndt,

      So true, the psychiatrists really must murder all the creatives (sarcasm), and they’re trying (truth). I’m one who suffers from “Creative Disorder,” I’m a fine artist. However my psychiatric practitioners actually misdiagnosed the withdrawal symptoms of a “safe smoking cessation med” / actual dangerous antidepressant, as “bipolar.” Which was, at the time at least, actually malpractice according to their own “holy” DSM “bible.”

      Good thing I have a border line genius IQ, live in the Information Age, and had developed the right side of my brain, as well as the left side, by getting both a business degree and an art degree, so I was capable of researching medicine, too. And this is apparently necessary since the psychiatrists who claim to “know everything about the meds” actually seem to have been completely deluded by pharmaceutical industry money and misinformation – and there’s a major “wall of silence” problem amongst the US medical community.

      And I agree with you, I can’t stand watching the mind numbing mainstream TV any longer, and I prefer dancing to watching dancing. But there are tons of people doing fascinating youtube videos about ideas and concepts I think and dream about. It’s quite clear to me now that the psychiatrists who claimed all my “thoughts,” “gut instincts,” and “dreams” to be “voices,” were quite blinded to the totality of the creativity, beauty, inquisitiveness, and intelligence within the mainstream population.

      It seems it’s possible the DSM believing psychiatric practitioners may not be capable of comprehending, therefore want to murder, those who are, as my psychiatrist finally figured out, more “smart,” “insightful,” and “creative” than they. But is defaming as many people as possible, including millions of children, with scientifically “lacking in validity” “mental illnesses,” just because the psychiatrists want to tranquilize and turn people into schizophrenics for profit with their drugs, really a good idea?

      I think societies that support psychiatry and it’s unproven “genetic,” but in reality now medically proven iatrogenic “mental illnesses,” historically and today, are sick societies. I truly hope and pray the US has gotten out of the business of researching psychiatry’s DSM “disorders,” however it does not yet appear they have.