The Link Between creative Genius and Mood Disorders
“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.”- Aristotle
This quote by Aristotle has long been associated with the idea that creative genius is often linked to mental disorders. The idea of the “tortured artist” has also been perpetuated through the ages, implying an association between heightened creativity and mood disorders. Recent research has even suggested that mood disorders may contribute to higher levels of intelligence and creativity.
In the late 1980s, a study was conducted that compared a sample group of writers to a control group of non-writers in order to identify the presence of mental disorders. The study found that the majority of writers had higher rates of mood disorders. In fact, 80% of the sample group had a mood disorder with a tendency toward bipolar disorder. Another study found that 38% of participants had received treatment for mental disorders, and 63% of those were playwrights.
So what are the common mood disorders found in highly intelligent and creative people? Some of the most influential artists of all time were afflicted with bipolar disorder, mania, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder seems to be the most common mood disorder in highly intelligent and creative people. In one study, it has been shown to be four times more likely in young adults who earned straight A’s in school. This finding was particularly true for high achievers in language, music, and math classes. Another study found that people with a genetic likelihood of developing bipolar disorder were also likely to express higher creative intelligence in literature and leadership roles.
Not only does a high IQ come with the propensity for mood disorders, but also risky behaviors like drug and alcohol use. This is because drug and alcohol consumption is a relatively new occurrence on the human evolutionary timeline, making it an evolutionarily novel concept. Several studies have suggested that children who were considered the brightest in their classroom are more likely to grow up and experiment with drugs and alcohol.
Medical researchers suggest that the human brain controls several different areas of survival. One of these, social interaction, takes up a large part of the brain’s functionality. This area of the brain helps with the development of cooperation, empathy, and altruism. When this brain function is non-existent or underdeveloped, a large quantity of cerebral activity is liberated for other uses. In the right person, this extra brain power can be channeled into creative energy. These individuals may go on to create moving pieces of art, explanations of previously misunderstood world processes, or even refining mathematical research. Lacking the social interactive part of brain functionality and replacing it with creative intelligence may be related to diagnoses of autism.
Other researchers have explained that when a person comes out of depression or other mood disorder episodes, the activity in the brain changes. In the lower part of the frontal lobe, brain activity decreases and shifts to the upper part of the lobe. This same brain activity is noted when people are experiencing creativity. Additionally, people with mood disorders do not have the same processing filters for outside stimuli as people without these disorders. These people are able to process contradictory ideas at the same time, identifying associations among previously unassociated ideas. This thought process can be overwhelming for individuals, but this also results in creative productivity.
Whether it is the mood disorder that leads to higher intelligence or the higher intelligence that leads to mood disorders, continues to be a point of contention for many researchers. One thing is certain, the two are most certainly connected. The idea of the “tortured artist” may not be a myth after all. So next time, before prescribing pharmaceuticals at the first signs of a mood disorder, it may be worth considering the potential stifling of genius thought processes.
In conclusion, the link between creative genius and mood disorders is a well-established phenomenon that has been observed through history. Bipolar disorder, mania, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are common mood disorders found in highly intelligent and creative people. The burden of high intelligence may also lead to risky behavior like drug and alcohol use. Moreover, lacking the social interactive part of brain functionality and replacing it with creative intelligence may be related to diagnoses of autism. However, research on whether the mood disorder leads to higher intelligence or vice versa remains a point of contention for many researchers.