Why Creativity Is Linked To Mental Health

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We have always known that creativity and genius has an association with mental health problems such as manic depression and schizophrenia, you only need to look at some of the great names of the past including Mozart, Salvador Dali, Einstein and Vincent Van Gogh to name but a few to see that.

The Roman philosopher Seneca summed it up nicely when he said “there is no great genius without a tincture of madness”.

Now, new research conducted by scientists at the Karolinska Institutet, shows a possible explanation as to why there is a link between creativity and mental health and it’s all about the dopamine receptors in the brain and how much information gets filtered out.

“We have studied the brain and the dopamine D2 receptors, and have shown that the dopamine system of healthy, highly creative people is similar to that found in people with schizophrenia,” says associate professor Fredrik Ullén from Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Woman and Child Health.

So we already know that highly creative people and people with Bipolar or Schizophrenia seem to have an increased ability to ‘think out of the box’ as it were.

Dr Ullén and his team suspected that the way that the dopamine works in the brain may be different in creative people so using divergent psychological tests involving problem solving; they measured the creativity of healthy individuals. Previous studies have already shown that dopamine receptors are involved in divergent thought or thinking out of the box.

“The study shows that highly creative people who did well on the divergent tests had a lower density of D2 receptors in the thalamus than less creative people,” says Dr Ullén.

“Schizophrenics are also known to have low D2 density in this part of the brain, suggesting a cause of the link between mental illness and creativity.”

The Thalamus basically acts as a kind of relay centre and filters out information before it reaches the cortex. The indications are that highly creative people and people with mental illness have less information being filtered out.

“Fewer D2 receptors in the thalamus probably means a lower degree of signal filtering, and thus a higher flow of information from the thalamus,” says Dr Ullén.

Dr Ullén believes that this could explain why highly creative people and people with mental illness can see more connections and make bizarre associations between things.

“Thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box,” says Dr Ullén.

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