The Link Between Genius And Madness
From Edgar Allen Poe, to Vincent Van Gogh, to Virginia Woolf, many of our society's geniuses have been plagued by a mental illness such as bipolar disorder or even schizophrenia. New research shows that this link between 'genius and madness' may be more than just a coincidence.
A panel composed of three researchers with mental illnesses themselves attempted to prove that the tortured genius is more fact than fiction.
Creativity seems to have the strongest relationship with mood disorders such bipolar disorder.
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Kay Redfield Jamison, one of the panelists and a clinical pyschologist and professor at John Hopkins University cited a study on 700,000 Swedish children. The study tested them when they were 16 and checked to see if those that did the best developed mental illnesses later in life.
According to Jamison, "They found that people who excelled when they were 16 years old were four times as likely to go on to develop bipolar disorder."
The reason for bipolarism and its possible links to creativity were explained University of California Irvine Neurobiologist James Fallon.
"People with bipolar tend to be creative when they're coming out of deep depression," said Fallon.
When coming out of a depression, a person's brain activity in the lower frontal lobe dies down and the higher part of the lobe becomes active with an improved mood. This is the same region of the brain associated with creativity.
Elyn Saks, a University of Southern California mental health law professor with schizophrenia explained why bipolarity might lead to creative and productive breakthroughs.
It seems that people with pyschosis can entertain contradictory thoughts at the same time better than those without it. This allows them to connect threads between a larger variety of ideas and possibly unearth something profound.
For instance, bipolar patients usually make three times as many word associations in studies than normal patients.