Psychotic Traits Foster Creativity, Studies Say

May 7, 2009

(ChattahBox)—Would scientific geniuses like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein have made their extraordinary discoveries and contributions to mankind, if they both didn’t suffer from mild insanity? Many researchers believe that madness contributes to creativity. Think of artists like Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who suffered from schizophrenia and a type of bipolar disorder, but at the same time managed to write and produce award winning music, albeit while wearing a bathrobe.

Professor Gordon Claridge, of Oxford University believes in the link between madness and creativity to such an extent, he is devoting an entire issue of the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences to the subject. And the research on the subject is quite convincing that maybe suffering from a wee bit of psychosis may not be such a bad thing, creatively speaking of course.

We all are aware of the traits of madness that many famous writers, poets and artists have exhibited over the ages, but many scientists think that is not a coincidence. “To be mildly manic depressive or mildly schizophrenic brings a flexibility of thought, an openness, and risk-taking behavior, which does have some adaptive value in creativity,” said Professor Claridge.

The problem arises when a person’s useful traits of mental illness cross over the invisible boundary into actual madness. Scientists believe there is no clearly marked dividing line between a sane and an insane person, and that there is a continuum, with some people having psychotic traits without developing full-blown and disabling mental illness.

The new journal has a study conducted on 291 creative individuals from various fields and found that 69 percent had some sort of mental illness, but many scientists had a lower rate of madness. Researchers believe scientists are more apt to suffer from genetic disorders, such as autism or Asperger’s syndrome.

However, both Newton and Einstein were thought to suffer from a type of schizophrenia, propelling their minds outside normal boundaries, leading to abstract thinking that produced inventions and scientific theories that changed the world. Previous studies on patients in mental hospitals have shown they excel at abstract thinking at levels well beyond sane individuals who are more grounded in reality.

Ironically, research into the dark recesses of creative minds, also reveal that many comedians are prone to severe depression and that they use comedy to overcome their dark thoughts. Well-known and successful comedians, such as Drew Carey, Jim Carrey and the late Rodney Dangerfield all suffer from depression.

And I know this, because there are websites entirely devoted to famous people with mental disorders, and the lists are long, very long.

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