Intuition and Bipolar: Is There a Connection?

by John McManamy Patient Expert

Something like this may have happened to you. On the "Ask" feature, Katie talks about meeting some people, and it's "like I know everything about them," even if "I only know them for two days."

It's almost as if we possess psychic powers, but more accurately we are talking about intuition, generally described as "the ability to sense or know immediately without reasoning."

"Is this part of bipolar?" she wonders.

Are we more intuitive than the general population? is another way of framing the question. To answer it, we would also have to include schizophrenia in the equation.

Intuition is connected to creativity. Nancy Andreassen of the University of Iowa first started investigating the phenomenon in the late seventies. She started on a hunch about schizophrenia (which ran in Einstein's family), only to discover a very high percentage of the writers she was investigating had bipolar.

Now, with new advances in brain imaging, Dr Andreassen is finding evidence of activity in the "association cortices" of the frontal lobes. "Their whole role is to facilitate making connections between one part of the brain and another," Dr Andreassen reported at a conference I attended two years ago.

Artists and writers and musicians describe the creative process as occurring unconsciously. Ready-made insights and ideas seem to come out of nowhere. "Whence and how [ideas] come, I know not; nor can I force them," wrote Mozart.

Researchers are also exploring the concept of "latent inhibition," articulated in a Psychologiy Today blog post by Scott Barry Kaufman PhD.
Think of that fine edge where productive novel thinking ventures into the realm of pathologically delusional thinking.

I ran into one of Dr Andreassen's colleagues at a recent conference I attended. It is well known that those with schizophrenia know what is going on with others in a group, she told me. Better than the therapists running these groups, she hinted.

Latent inhibition refers to the brain's ability to unconsciously filter out information, which makes rational thinking possible. Those with schizophrenia have a notoriously hard time with this. Neurons are competing for attention with other neurons. Too much information - not to mention emotion and sensory input - is coming in. The brain is overwhelmed.

The phenomenon certainly occurs in those of us with bipolar, but unless we are floridly psychotic it is less obvious.

A lot more research needs to be done, but it appears that latent inhibition may have something to do with intuition. Our "filters" may not be as efficient as those in the general population. More information comes in. We have more to work with, more stuff to connect together, perhaps combined with the ability to make these connections.

Pow Two plus two equals five. We don't know how we know. We just know. Those whose minds work in a more pedestrian fashion can only marvel at our abilities. But the downside is we're a mere neuron or two away from crazy.

The trick, it seems, is to have strong "executive function," which relates to the brain's ability to cognitively control thoughts and behaviors and set goals. Those with schizophrenia tend to have notoriously weak executive function.

The best ally of the intuitive mind is the rational mind. Intuition is not to be confused with infallible wisdom. Our intuitive minds may come to stunning conclusions, but we need to avoid jumping to conclusions. Often, our intuition is just plain wrong. Our rational mind is there for a reason. Be wise, live well ...

John McManamy
Meet Our Writer
John McManamy

John is an author and advocate for Mental Health. He wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Depression and Bipolar Disorder.