Creativity and Schizophrenia: The Definite Link

  • Researchers at the Karolinska Institute's department of women's and children's health in Stockholm have proven a link between creativity and schizophrenia. They studied the brain and the dopamine D2 receptors and discovered that the dopamine system of healthy, highly creative people mirrors that found in people with schizophrenia.

    Specifically: highly creative people had a lower density of D2 receptors in the thalamus than less creative people and people with schizophrenia are also known to have low D2 density in this area of the brain. The thalamus region acts as a kind of filter for information before it moves on to the cortex region that handles cognition and reasoning.

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    It is thought creative people could benefit from having fewer D2 receptors because a reduced amount of filtering would translate into a higher flow of information, according to the researchers. This also could be a reason people with schizophrenia think "outside the box" and come up with bizarre connections.


    I wonder if this is why thoughts and ideas come into my head sometimes like water out of a fire hose. When I was not on the medication I couldn't filter out external stimuli and noises and it felt like I could hear them coming from in my own head.

    I was not among the creative people or those with schizophrenia given the problem-solving test however I can vouch for its validity. As soon as I read about this link I understood that maybe I felt different from a young age precisely because there was something different about me: I had a defective brain that processed things in an intuitive way and I saw connections where sometimes none existed.

    This creativity is a dual-edged sword: I could intuitively mix blues and rock and punk as a disc jockey because of how the music segued in my head yet at the same time I could see danger where none existed in the simple words of dustless lampong black pepper written on a packet of pepper on the tray of food that appeared for me to eat in the emergency room.

    There is a long list throughout history of creative people who have mental illnesses such as schizophrenia like the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh who painted outdoors because of the curative effects of the fresh air.

    Other creative folk touched by madness include writer Virginia Woolf, painter Edvard Munch [of The Scream fame] and composer Robert Schumann.

    In my dining foyer hangs a Van Gogh print of three fishing boats. I bought it not only because boats signify wealth in feng shui and it hangs in the benefactor section of my apartment but also because I felt a kinship to the artist. He lived to be only 33 and in his short life his art was his shield against his illness.

    The BBC quoted Mark Millard, a UK psychologist who said the overlaps with mental illness might explain the motivation and determination creative people share:

    "Creativity is uncomfortable. It is their dissatisfaction with the present that drives them on to make changes."

    In my own life it was suggested that being creative could've given me the resilience to cope with my illness later in life. The one defining moment of my young life was when I joined the radio station and became a disc jockey for two years. My first therapist said that working at this job I loved and being out among people who shared my passion for music could've been the thing that halted the schizophrenia from progressing or from starting any earlier.

  • Indeed: our own innate creativity is a therapeutic modality.

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    As a young person I drew and painted not because I had illusions of being Picasso only because it was a way to deal with my feelings. I did this long before I even started keeping a journal. Art therapy was my favorite group at the day program. I admired the art therapists who always dressed in style.

    For a window into the lives of two courageous women with schizophrenia who are artists: read my SharePosts where I interview Kate Kiernan and Pamela Spiro Wagner. They won the 2007 HealthCentral awards for having the best blogs among the schizophrenia web sites. You can read my new-and-improved Joyful Music blog too.

    As always I will recommend you write SharePosts here at the Connection because they are a kind of blog entry where you can talk about what's going on and be creative in expressing yourself and having a dialogue with other community members.

    My next SharePost will be about the controversial studies that link marijuana use with schizophrenia. Stay tuned.

Published On: August 15, 2010