Madness and creativity have been associated for thousands of years. But is it fact or illusion? Our own work indicates that about80% of schizophrenic patients have cognitive deficits but the other 20% do not and these 20% almost always are exceptionally creative.
Creativity is a very diffuse concept so it is notoriously difficult to study So we need to limit and constrain our scope and goal. We make no attempt to link with psychoanalytic models. Instead we focus on cognitive neuropsychological factors and we limit ourselves to psychosis (bipolar disorder and schizophrenia) and psychosis-proneness. We aim to go beyond surveys and interviews of eminent people to directly study the link between creativity and madness and specify underlying mechanisms that are common to both creative and “crazy” thought process.
Our research suggests that there are 4 key factors that contribute to creativity: psychosis-proneness, reduced laterality, disinhibited attention and good working memory. This profile is most common among the relatives of psychosis patients and schizotypal individuals. In schizotypal and schizophrenic subjects, we have examined divergent thinking ability and assessed brain activity during divergent thinking. We found that verbal creativity is increased in healthy schizotypal individuals and this was associated with increased right frontal activation (Folley and Park, 2005). Creative output interacts with mood in bipolar disorder. In a study of bipolar subjects and their first degree relatives, we observed that after intense mood induction, there was an increased use of unusual language in the relatives (McMichael and Park, in preparation).
We need to further elucidate the neural mechanisms of creative thinking process and characterize individual differences to test the hypothesis that those at genetic risk for psychosis may have cognitive advantages. We are currently using near infrared optical imaging and DTI as well as behavioral tasks to understand the creativity-madness link.