Scientists: Creativity Is Genetically Linked To Bipolar Disorder And Schizophrenia

You may remember the popular 1993 film Benny & Joon — starring Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson — about a schizophrenic young woman with ravishing visual artistry. Since then, there have been numerous successful movies relating art with mental illnesses.

Curiously, however, in an attempt to justify that creativity is genetically linked to mental disorders, researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London initiated a new study that was published in Nature Neuroscience.

The study’s findings substantiate with what scientists have long suspected: that schizophrenic or bipolar sufferers are likely to have creative abilities such as music, writing, painting, dancing, and acting. The study also suggests that those diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are 25 percent more likely to carry the gene, the Guardian reports.

Researchers at deCODE Genetics, a biopharmaceutical company, examined genetic risk scores in a sample of approximately 86,300 residents of Iceland. During the study, researchers found that the genetic risk scores in those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder showed higher scores in creative individuals belonging to artistic societies.

Creative individuals — similar to patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder — show altered cognitive and emotional processing, as well as thoughts, which differentiate from the non-mentally ill.

Art by Ema Sabrina

Furthermore, both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder also carry symptoms of psychosis; researchers now believe that this too could be linked with creativity.

Kari Stefánsson, a neurologist, CEO of Decode Genetics, and a co-author of the study, stated the following.

“What we have shown is basically is that schizophrenia and creativity share biology.”

While the findings revealed a long-suspected genetic theory, one still has to keep in mind that the biological factors which cause these psychiatric illnesses are still extensively misunderstood.

And because of this, news outlets, such as the The Verge, have expressed their opinions and doubts of the study’s findings. The Verge science writer Arielle Duhaime-Ross gave an elegant explanation of the findings by writing in her piece.

“There’s another issue to consider. For this 13-foot-long association to matter, you have to have a pretty good definition of creativity — something that psychologist Judith Shlesinger, author of The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the Myth of the Mad Genius, argues is missing from the study.”

She continued by stating, “If there is a link between creativity and psychosis — it’s entirely possible that one exists — we probably won’t be able to find it by looking at a person’s job. And, as far as the genetics go, we may want to find means of predicting schizophrenia and bipolar disorder that can account for more than 13 feet in a creative mile.”

[Photo via John Schwartzman (MGM Pictures) / Painting Courtesy: Ema Sabrina]