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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Creative Brains Share Trait With Schizophrenic Ones, Study Finds

In Hollywood you often hear how "brilliant" someone is and, at the same time, how they are just a little crazy.  If you look back at some of most creative people, they often were just a little "different."  So the study is not so much a surprise as a confirmation that we still have so much to learn about the human mind.

Mental illness in "crazy artists" may create a number of factors that contribute to their artistic tendencies. The first of these is the polarizing effect on the artist. The artist who sees him or herself as "outside" of the general public because of a mental illness is likely to have a take on humanity quite different from the "inside" man or woman. In fact, being outside allows one to observe society as one might observe a society of birds for example. Core truths of the society can be exposed and thus resonate with, or irritate the public.

Additionally "crazy artists" have access, probably that they don’t want, to the excessive emotional content of their lives. This is very true of those with bipolar disorder or depression. Some cannot filter out the deep and foreboding emotions, causing great mental disturbance. Exposure to consistent emotional content can as well touch others listening to, observing or reading the art.

From -- Creative people may think broadly and make unusual associations because they, like schizophrenics, may be less able to filter out information, a Swedish study found.

Researchers at the Stockholm-based Karolinska Institute followed 13 healthy men and women who took creativity tests. The more solutions the participants found for a problem, the higher their creativity levels were. The researchers also studied images of the people’s brains.

The creative problem-solvers had a lower concentration of proteins that aid in the chemical transmission of information in the thalamus, the part of the brain that determines what data is relevant for reasoning, according to the study. That’s a trait commonly found in patients with schizophrenia, a mental illness whose symptoms include hallucinations, jumbled thoughts and paranoia.

“The question is how much is filtered away and how much does the thalamus allow to be put through” to the cortex, where reasoning takes place, said Fredrik Ullen, an associate professor at the institute, in a phone interview today. "If you have more information in the cortex, you should be able to make more associations. You might see things that other people don’t.’’

From an evolutionary perspective, a lack of the proteins, known as dopamine D2 receptors, may have been beneficial, Ullen said. Dopamine acts as a courier, delivering the information to receptors for processing and forwarding in the brain.

Positive Traits

“We tend to think of psychiatric diseases as negative, as destructive," he said. "But we can see that some traits or components of psychiatric disease may be useful.”

Earlier images and studies of the brain had indicated that the D2 receptor played a role in how flexible the brain is in responding, and that people having one variation of the dopamine D2 receptor gene scored higher on creativity tests, regardless of their general intelligence, Ullen’s study found.

Researchers limited the number of study participants because of the high cost of taking brain images, Ullen said. The study was published today in the journal PLoS One, a publication of the Public Library of Science, a San Francisco-based non- profit organization.

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