Creative Genius or Psychotic? A Look at the Strong Positive Correlation Between Creativity and Psychoses
Jonathan S. Byrd Rochester Institute of Technology
This paper postulates that there is a strong positive correlation between traits associated with creativity and traits associated with psychoses. Indeed, some of the relevant traits are shared. There are several traits that go hand in hand with creativity. It will be shown that two of these "creative" traits, latent inhibition and fantasy proneness, also have a strong positive correlation with certain psychoses. As intelligence and creativity are often linked, we will also discuss intelligence as it relates to creativity. Thus it will be shown how latent inhibition, intelligence, and fantasy proneness all factor into a theory of how creativity and psychoses are intertwined.
This article postulates that those who are gifted with a high level of creativity, are also predisposed to certain forms of psychoses. Indeed, even some of the traits long since considered to be associated with certain forms of mental illness are shared by those who are inherently creative. What follows will be a breakdown of creativity, intelligence and psychoses, and how they all are interrelated.
First we will explore some examples that are relatively well known, and demonstrate how they show a positive correlation between creativity and psychoses. Then we will break down creativity to define what traits are associated with creativeness. As intelligence is often associated with those who are creative, we will break down what constitutes intelligence and show the similarities and differences between the definitions of intellect and the definitions of creativity. To wrap up we will discuss the theory of latent inhibition (Carson, Peterson, & Higgins, 2003), the personality trait known as fantasy proneness, and then show the correlation between specific types of psychoses and creativity.
Kaufman and Baer (2002) put together an article showing the predisposition of female poets towards various forms of mental illnesses. Though their article goes in depth over the tendencies of male vs. female poets in respect to susceptibility to mental illnesses, the article nonetheless touches base with the very core behind the theory postulated here. Poetry is undeniably a form of creativity, and some of the best, most creative poets are the ones who show the most signs of psychoses.
Creativity and Psychoses: Real-World Examples
Kaufman and Baer (2002) further propose that those with mental illnesses are more likely to be drawn to poetry rather than to other forms of prose due to the personal nature of poetry. Kaufman and Baer (2002) conclude by stating, "The adage that creativity and 'madness' are linked together is by and large supported by the existing research" (p. 282).
Fantasy proneness is a trait that can be equated with having an "overactive imagination". One of the most highly publicized examples of fantasy proneness deals with UFO sightings and people who claim to either be visited and/or abducted by aliens. In an article which explores the depths of UFO sightings, fantasy proneness, and psychoses, we discover that if a person is claiming to be abducted by aliens, the only two logical conclusions that can be reached are either the person is fantasy prone or psychotic (Bartholomew, Basterfield, & Howard, 1991).
The problem that we have with determining whether or not a person is either fantasy prone or suffers from a mental disorder is the fact that many of the symptoms displayed by fantasy proneness and psychopathy are the same. This speaks directly to the matter at heart, if a person sees UFOs does that mean they are "mad", or do they just have an overactive imagination? Typically our society associates auditory and visual hallucinations as symptoms of mental illnesses, but fantasy prone people experience such hallucinations many times. Does this make them psychotic, or does it mean that they are overly creative? Sometimes it is hard to tell due to the strong connection between the two traits.
Shalley (1991) proposes a three factor model of creativity. She proposes that for creativity to be present, three conditions are required; ability, intrinsic motivation, and cognitive activities.
Creativity: How Do We Define It?
"Ability is knowledge in the area in which an individual is working and the necessary skills to process information creatively to produce novel and appropriate responses" (Shalley, 1991, p. 179). To put it in simpler terms, ability is the knowledge a person has on a subject before they need to come up with a novel idea in the subject. Just as an author who knows more about a topic would be able to write a more detailed synopsis, so would a person who knows more about a topic be able to create a new idea based on that topic.
"Intrinsic motivation is inner-directed interest in or fascination with a task" (Shalley, 1991, p. 179). This is fairly self explanatory, a person who is naturally interested in a subject will be more likely to dwell upon it and more likely to have better insights than a person who dislikes the subject.
"The cognitive activities that are necessary in order to be creative are problem definition, environmental scanning, data gathering, unconscious mental activity on the problem, insight to the problem solution, evaluation of the solution, and finally, implementation of the solution" (Shalley, 1991, p. 180). Shalley (1991) postulates that these three criteria are necessary for creativity to occur. However, her model is not the only model with a theory on creativity.
The notion of creativity was largely understudied until Gulliford stated in a 1950 APA presidential address that the topic was not receiving the attention it deserved. Simonton (2000) attempts in his article to categorize and solidify the studies done on creativity since that address. Simonton (2000) suggests that research on creativity has taken place in four key areas: "the cognitive processes involved in the creative act, the distinctive characteristics of the creative person, the development and manifestation of creativity across the individual life span, and the social environments most strongly associated with creative activity" (Simonton, 2000, p. 151).
At this moment, Simonton (2000) states that there are two dominating theories of creativity. One theory, being an economic model, examines a person's willingness to invest in human capital. The other theory being an evolutionary one, where it explains the creative process, person, and product. Shalley's (1991) theory of creativity follows this second model. The article describes the various strides made in the defining of creativity, but goes on to conclude that although there has been considerable progress since the 1950 Gulliford address, there is much more that still needs to be researched if a definitive model of creativity is to be reached.
To understand how intelligence relates to creativity, we must first delve into the definitions of intelligence. Like creativity, White (2000) states that cognitive neuroscience has not yet come to a consensus about what "intelligence" actually is. A word used in the 19th century to denote some unspecified mental property that promotes evolution. The late 1800s gave rise to the development of testing for high levels of intelligence.
Intelligence: How Does It Relate to Creativity?
At first intelligence testing was not geared towards testing the general populace, rather finding diamonds of genius in the rough, and weeding out the feebleminded. Now IQ testing is performed on anyone who wishes to take the test. IQ testing attempts to get away from all culture bias so that anyone in the world should be able to take the test and generate a score close to a score of a person of equal intelligence somewhere else.
White (2000) describes in his article the notion of genius. While the term "intelligent" is almost always a positive term, the term "genius" can either have a positive or negative connotation depending on the context. Although White (2000) says in his article that it is unfortunate that geniuses often get stuck with the stigma of being pathological, he admits that one can not totally discount the correlation between genius and psychopathology.
"Creative activity does involve very regular, cognitive processes" (Bink & Marsh, 2001, p. 60). The article by Bink and Marsh (2001) explains in detail the cognitive processes behind creative thinking. It uses the evidence that people use information the same way whether or not they are creating a novel idea or merely accomplishing a non-creative task. They discuss the Geneplore model of creativity to devise how cognitive thinking contributes to the production of a novel idea. "According to the model, creative activity is the process of generating, refining, and then regenerating mental representations in service of task demands and goals" (Bink & Marsh, 2001, p. 61). This model shows where cognitive thinking fits into the role of the creative process.
While intelligence tests contain a range of problems, when one goes beyond the range of conventionality in the tests, one starts to tap in to individual differences that are measured very little, or not measured at all by conventional tests (Sternberg, 1999). Sternberg's (1999) theory on successful intelligence suggests that creative intelligence can be better measured by problems that assess a person's ability to cope with relative novelty.
One example of such a test is people were presented with the following scenario: "[There are] four kinds of people on the planet Kyron: blens, who are born young and die young; kwefs, who are born old and die old; balts, who are born young and die old; and prosses, who are born old and die young" (Sternberg, 1999, p. 304). The subjects are then instructed to predict future states from past states. A test such as this would measure more the creative side of intelligence than the cognitive aspect of intelligence.
Sternberg (1999) found that the definition of creative intelligence goes beyond of the realm of cognitive intelligence and that individual and developmental differences have a large effect upon the results of creativity, much more than the effect they have upon the results of cognitive thinking.
Sternberg (2001) goes on in another article to further explain creativity with regards to intelligence and wisdom. He says that creativity refers to the potential to create a novel product that is both task appropriate and high in quality. He proposes that creativity has a dialectical relationship with intelligence, the while intelligence is often for the advancement of social agendas, creativity hampers or creates entirely new ones.
Sternberg (2001) suggests that creativity, like intelligence, is a trait that is naturally hard to define, but can be linked by the common idea that things that are creative are both novel and high in quality, while things that are intelligent are not novel but merely high in quality. He uses this basis to suggest that creativity in some ways seems to go beyond normal intelligence. It can be seen from the above articles that while intelligence plays an important part in the role of creativity, it is not the be all and the end all of what makes a person creative. Creativity has been shown to have most links with genius, yet creativity still seems to exist in ways that go above cognitive thinking skills.
Creativity and Its Strong Positive Correlation With Psychoses
The Case of Latent InhibitionLatent Inhibition (LI) is defined as "the capacity to screen from conscious awareness stimuli previously experienced as irrelevant" (Carson, Peterson, & Higgins, 2003, p. 499). Carson, Peterson, and Higgins (2003) go into detail, testing several different traits and how low/high levels of LI have effects upon them. The study we are most interested in is the study where low/high levels of inhibition are compared with moderate/high levels of IQ and their respective creativity output.
A person with high levels of LI will tend to always see things the same way as before. "If an item was irrelevant before, it will be irrelevant again," is something that goes through the subconscious mind of a person with high levels of LI. Regardless of a person's IQ, if a person has a high LI score; they tend to do poorly on creativity testing. This is logical because a person who always sees things with the same stigma can hardly be expected to improve upon said object, regardless of how intelligent they are.
A person with low levels of LI on the other hand will not dismiss something as irrelevant based on past experiences. They re-analyze the object or situation again before coming to any conclusions about it. Here is where we see a big jump between the differences in IQ, those with a moderate IQ scored slightly higher than those with high levels of inhibition, but those with high IQ scored much better in creativity tests than their less intelligent test subjects. This also makes sense if you think about it, a more intelligent, more intuitive person who re-analyzes things will notice more, and extrapolate further compared to one who is less intelligent.
Reduced LI scores in humans has been associated with psychotic states or psychotic proneness, and as reduced levels of LI produce higher levels of creativity, one can see the correlation between creativity and psychoses. "These results support the theory that highly creative individuals and psychotic-prone individuals may possess neurobiological similarities, perhaps genetically determined, that present either as psychotic predisposition on the one hand or as unusual creative potential on the other" (Carson, Peterson, & Higgins, 2003, p. 505).
The Case of Fantasy PronenessRauschenberger and Lynn (1995) did a study on fantasy prone students and their predisposition towards DSM Axis I disorders. Rauschenberger and Lynn (1995) found a strong positive correlation between fantasy prone students and Axis I disorders when compared with other students who were not fantasy prone.
During the course of their study, they found that 67% of students who are fantasy prone met the criteria for either a past or present Axis I diagnosis, compared to only 31% of student who were not fantasy prone. That's more than two times the amount, a very powerful and persuasive figure. However even more amazing is the fact that 50% of the fantasy prone students reported a past episode of clinical depression, as well as meeting the criteria for 23 Axis I disorders (2 disorders per student average). "We found that 29% of fantasizers received a current DSM-III-R diagnosis. This statistic is consistent with Lynn and Rhue's (1988) estimate that 20% to 35% of the fantasy-prone population exhibits maladjustment, psychopathology, or deviant ideation" (Rauschenberger & Lynn, 1995, p. 378).
In the study by Lynn and Rhue (1988) mentioned above, they examine fantasy prone students and contrast them with students who are not fantasy prone. The differences between fantasy prone students and non fantasy prone students are separated into several characteristics such as; hypnotizability, imagination, waking suggestibility, hallucinatory ability, creativity, psychopathology, and childhood experiences.
While the rest of the article discusses in detail all of the above characteristics, the characteristics of creativity and psychopathology are of the most interest to this topic. It was shown through testing that the students who were more fantasy prone had higher levels of creativity and a higher degree of psychopathology than those students who showed low fantasy proneness. It was found that most (70%) fantasizers, while displaying some signs of psychoses, were able to maintain a normal life.
However, 5 out of the 13 people tested scored more than 2 standard deviations above the mean for schizotypy or hypothetical psychosis proneness, and an amazing 20-35% of all the subjects with fantasy proneness exhibited "significant signs of maladjustment, psychopathology, or deviant ideation. And perhaps a smaller proportion of fantasizers can be aptly characterized as schizotypal or borderline personalities" (Lynn & Rhue, 1988, p. 42). It can be derived from this that at least some degree of overlap exists between healthy creative tendencies and pathological ideational processes.
So it can be clearly seen that creativity and psychoses in general have strong connections between them, but what specific types of psychoses are creative people generally most susceptible to? One article discusses the correlation between creativity and manic depressive disorder/cyclothymes (Richards, Kinney, Lunde, Benet, & Merzel, 1988). We learn that not only do more people with these certain disorders tend to have a greater wealth of creativity at their disposal, but they also tend to use their creative ability in different ways than people who do not have these disorders.
Creativity and Its Strong Positive Correlation With Specific Psychoses
Another article discusses the personality of those with schizophrenia (Berenbaum & Fujita, 1994). It discusses the issue of creativity and how it has long been speculated that creativity and psychoses are somehow linked. Berenbaum and Fujita (1994) speculate that this could be due to the fact that creative minds and psychotic minds follow the same cognitive process. Some psychologists even speculate that certain genes that predispose you towards schizophrenia are also the genes responsible for a person's creative abilities.
So where do we draw the line? How do we determine who is psychotic and who is a creative genius? Obviously more work and research needs to be done in this field, genetic and psychiatric tests should be run in order to further discover the interesting link between creativity and psychoses. As a society we define the difference between someone who is psychotic and someone who is not is based upon a person's actions towards society's accepted norms.
One has to wonder, if Beethoven were born today, would he be making music? Or would he be sitting in a psychiatric ward, with no one but the walls to listen to his symphonies?
This paper attempted to explain the correlation between psychoses and creativity. Creativity is a difficult concept to define; what constitutes one person's having greater creativity than another, and how does one measure creativity if the two persons have different specific forms of creativity?
Are Creative People Really Psychotic?
David B. Beaton
Rochester Institute of Technology
In the paper, a three-factor model was presented as a definition of creativity. Although all of the factors make sense--ability, intrinsic motivation, and cognitive activities--what has me wondering is the case of children born with prodigious talents in one area who otherwise are mentally handicapped, such as being autistic. These children seem to have two of the factors, motivation and ability, but they lack cognitive activities. Would one say that these children do not possess the same level of creativity as a person with more mental resources?
The paper also talks about creativity tests. Similarly to the Rorschach Ink Blot Test, creativity tests can be difficult to evaluate. There appears to be a high degree of subjectivity involved in assessing whether a person is higher than average on creativity. Is there a structured way of evaluating creativity?
This paper left me wondering if it is just our selective attention in finding a high degree of psychosis amongst highly intelligent people. Is there really a higher percentage of highly creative people who are psychotic, or are the numbers about the same as those in the wider community? The paper would have been stronger if it had presented statistics on this. I have some doubts that this is a phenomenon rather than merely the fact that our thinking has been influenced by highly publicized cases of geniuses with mental problems.
In this paper, Jonathan S. Byrd attempted to show a positive correlation between creativity and psychosis. The first section of this paper told of those who see UFOs as either being prone to fantastic thinking or psychotic. The second section defined creativity. The third section attempted to relate creativity to intelligence. The fourth section attempted to relate creativity with psychoses in regards to fantasy-proneness and latent inhibition. The final section related specific psychoses with creativity.
Comments on Creativity Versus Psychoses
Johanna E. Dickhut
Rochester Institute of Technology
After reading this paper, I feel unconvinced that the author has proved his point that creativity is related to psychoses. In the first section, UFO sightings are discussed, which is a controversial issue and makes for a poor example of creativity and psychosis. I fail to see the overall relevance and believe there to be much better examples of creativity and psychosis, such as in the example of Vincent Van Gogh. My suggestion is to replace this example with another that is more clearly recognizable and less controversial.
In the second section, the author attempted to define creativity using one source. The definition of creativity is highly controversial, and there should have been more sources and opinions cited. I also failed to understand the relevance of Simonton's (2000) thoughts on more research for the study of creativity. How does this source provide more information about the definition of creativity?
In the third section, a direct and clear link between creativity and intelligence was not properly verbalized. I feel that I was left guessing what this link is exactly. I also failed to see the relevance of discussing IQ testing. I think there needed to be a better connection between the actual level of IQ and creative ability made if IQ testing is to be discussed. Clearer statements are needed for this section.
The fourth section was very confusing in general. There was too much jargon and not enough connections back to the hypothesis.
In the final section, there was some connection made between specific psychoses (e.g., Type I Bipolar Disorder), but the author did not address all the studies that make no connection between psychoses and creativity. From my own knowledge, there is very little evidence linking specific psychoses and true creativity, and this paper did not dispel my beliefs that the two are not connected. Evidence against the proposed theory was not addressed, which is a major problem.
In "Creative Genius or Psychotic? A Look at the Strong Positive Correlation Between Creativity and Psychoses," Byrd gave good backing for the creativity/psychosis relation. I agree with Byrd's postulation that creativity is directly linked to psychoses and that high levels in one will the majority of the time dictate high levels in the other. Byrd did a good job of defining creativity and describing how it related directly to intelligence and psychoses. The real-world examples described in the introduction gave a good basis for the argument by posing situations that people can easily envision and relate to.
Creative Genius or Psychotic? Possibly Both
Shane K. Porzio
Rochester Institute of Technology
I felt that Byrd's last argument, which was supposed to correlate creativity with specific psychoses, fell short of that goal. Although references were made to two pieces of research on bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, no mention was made of any other disorders with which high creativity seemed to have a high correlation. I felt that this section overall was too generalized and should be developed more to give readers more in-depth information on other disorders related to creativity.
Personally, I would like to see more psychophysiological causes covered in the paper. Psychophysiology is a huge factor and should have at the very least some mention if not a larger section devoted to discussing the implications of the physical traits of individuals who are deemed creative and individuals who have psychoses. This could help define the relation more clearly and also help extrapolate to people who are perhaps not diagnosable with a psychosis but who show some psychotic symptoms.
In regard to the last statement in the paper, it is well known that in Beethovenís time there was far less tolerance for people seen as psychotic, and, most likely, if he were seen to be insane, then he would have been cast as someone who was possessed and tortured or even put to death in an effort to free him from the demons thought to control him. Today's society would almost definitely accept him as an amazing musical talent and embrace him for his gift. I did not feel that this statement added to the author's point in any way.
It seemed as though Byrd did a fairly good job summing up most of the relevant information on this topic, although I think his summary could have benefited from presenting and exploring more psychophysiological aspects.
There is clearly a large amount of anecdotal evidence for the notion that creative genius and psychoses are related. In his paper, Byrd attempted to clarify this relation in a more precise manner.
Creativity and Psychoses: Strong Positive Correlation, Not Necessarily Causation
Matthew P. Rick
Rochester Institute of Technology
Building from the ground up, Byrd defined creativity to be a three-fold trait derived from ability, cognitive activities, and intrinsic motivation. This seems an intuitive definition, in effect stating that in order to be creative, a person must have an idea, possess ability in a medium that can express that idea, and finally have the motivation to bring about such an expression. The problem with this definition is that it is recursive. According to this definition, in order to be creative, one must first have a creative idea and then express it in some way.
Later, Byrd examined the relation between creativity and intelligence, basically concluding that creativity is something other than intelligence that somehow works with intelligence to create a product of some kind that is both novel and of high quality. In this lay the key to defining creativity, and Byrd focused on it further. He quoted Sternberg (2001), saying, "creativity refers to the potential to create a novel product that is both task appropriate and high in quality" (p. 304) He further stated that creativity seemed to be affected by both individual and developmental differences, as opposed to intelligence, which is a heritable trait.
Latent inhibition and fantasy proneness are also traits associated both with creativity and psychoses. Latent inhibition (LI) is the ability to disregard information that was previously deemed irrelevant and the extent to which previously considered information is judged irrelevant. Fantasy proneness (FP), on the other hand, describes the extent to which a person both suffers from delusions and engages in healthy mental fantasies. Low levels of LI and high levels of FP have both been shown to be positively correlated with mental illness, but it would be fair to say that the assumption that these two traits cause psychoses might be premature, as both of these traits are symptoms of schizophrenia. Although this paper made some good points and offered some excellent definitions, much more needs to be done in the field of creativity before its conclusions can be decided one way or another.
Beaton asked in his review if there was any "structured way of evaluating creativity." In essence, there is not. Creativity has yet to come across a definition that psychologists can agree upon. Many models have been suggested, and numerous psychologists have hypothesized about what creativity is and how the creative process works. But no theory is definitive; many are stabs in the dark, attempting to understand such an interesting trait as creativity.
Creativity: A Very Broad Category
Jonathan S. Byrd
Rochester Institute of Technology
Beaton asked a good question as to whether psychoses were more prominent in creative geniuses or if that view was too narrow given the prominence of psychoses of people with limited or normal levels of creativity. I did not come across any data as to the percentages, which in my opinion was due to the following factors. First, true creative geniuses are few and far between, as sparse as the number of intellectual giants. I suppose it would help to show that as levels of creativity go up, so does the possibility of psychoses, but due largely to the fact that creativity is still largely undefined. Second, as was mentioned before, a solid definition of creativity still eludes us. Only in the past few decades have researchers been able to test for levels of creativity in individuals, and those data are unreliable at best.
Dickhut seemed confused by a large section of my paper, failing to recognize why several items were included. The third section, where intelligence was discussed, was brought up because intelligence and creativity are often intertwined. In order to discuss some of the theories on creativity, I felt that a background in the definition of intelligence and how it related to creativity was in order. In the very next section where I discussed Latent Inhibition, the paper showed precisely how creativity and intelligence were linked and where creativity worked into the model. I am confused as to why Dickhut felt that the "link between creativity and intelligence was not properly verbalized."
Dickhut suggested that I include counter-arguments to my theory. The point of my paper was to verify my theory, not to disprove it. Finding evidence that refutes my theory is a job left to the reader; I tried to make the best case I could and stimulate thinking in the process. If my theory is wrong, then readers should show how it is wrong and come up with their own theories. The theory/counter-theory, thesis/antithesis cycle is how advancements are made. Dickhut stated that there is very little evidence linking specific psychoses to creativity. It is logical to assume that if there is a link between creativity and psychoses in general, certain psychoses would have a stronger correlation than others. My paper merely presented the reports of two specific psychoses that have been shown to be strongly linked with creativity.
Porzio stated that he would have liked to see some psychophysiological traits factored into the theory. I do not see how psychophysiology factors into a discussion of creativity and psychoses at all. In this model, psychophysiological factors have nothing to do with creativity or psychoses. Discussing this aspect of abnormal psychology is probably another paper in itself. I am not saying that physiological factors are irrelevant to the psychology of a person; I am saying that physiological factors have nothing to do with my paper. Porzio also disliked the reference to Beethoven, stating that he did not believe that in today's society a man would be locked up merely for displaying some idiosyncrasies. I also do not really believe that were Beethoven to be born today he would be locked up; I merely placed this possibility at the end of the paper in order to inspire thought, to make readers think.
Most of the peer commentaries that critiqued my paper pointed out that I lacked examples--"This example should have been used," "I would have liked a more in-depth look at this area," etc. For me to explore the matter of creativity and psychoses in as great a depth and as thoroughly as most seemed to wish would have required more time. The paper was meant to postulate that creativity and psychoses were linked and provide some corroboration for the theory. Getting to the level of detail requested by the peer commentators would be a much larger project. I believe I clearly proposed my theory with sufficient corroborating evidence given the time frame available for me to complete this project.
Bartholomew, R. E., Basterfield, K., & Howard, G. S. (1991). UFO abductees and contactees: Psychopathology or fantasy proneness? Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 22, 215-222.
Berenbaum, H., & Fujita, F. (1994). Schizophrenia and personality: Exploring the boundaries and connections between vulnerability and outcome. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 103, 148-158.
Bink, M. L., & Marsh, R. L. (2001). Cognitive regularities in creative activity. Review of General Psychology, 4, 59-78.
Carson, S. H., Peterson, J. B., & Higgins, D. M. (2003). Decreased latent inhibition is associated with increased creative achievement in high-functioning individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 499-506.
Kaufman, J. C., & Baer, J. (2002). I bask in dreams of suicide: Mental illness, poetry, and women. Review of General Psychology, 6, 271-286.
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Sternberg, R. J. (2001). What is the common thread of creativity? Its dialectical relation to intelligence and wisdom. American Psychologist, 56, 360-362.
White, S. H. (2000). Conceptual foundations of IQ testing. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 6, 33-43.
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