Sunday, August 17, 2014

Creativity and Mental Illness

The tragic death of Robin Williams has triggered a wide range of discussions, articles, and blogs about depression. PBS quoted a neuroscientist named Dr. Nancy Andreason who is currently studying creativity and the brain. One of her quotes in the short pbs article indicates that “Persisting in the face of doubt or rejection, for artists or for scientists, can be a lonely path—one that may also partially explain why some of these people experience mental illness”.

Dr. Andreason has made studying the brain and creativity her life’s work. Her interesting article “Secrets of the Creative Brain” appeared in June’s Atlantic Monthly, which reveals some pretty interesting insights on potential links between genius, IQ, and creativity. Her current thirteen subjects include George Lucas, novelist Jane Smiley and six Nobel laureates in the fields of chemistry, physics, medicine, and physiology. In an earlier study, she also worked with Kurt Vonnegut for years while examining the link between creativity and mental illness.

One of the things she discovered is that "Creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see.” She also writes that so far, the links between mental illness and creativity, which she did with Vonnegut and others, have been borne out in this study. Apparently a high percentage of her subjects come from creative families who also have mental illness issues. Both nature and nurture seem to play significant roles. Much more is revealed in her interesting article, which you can find at

It’s so sad that these issues only come to the forefront through the untimely deaths of creative people, but with the work of Dr. Andreason and others, maybe we'll learn, one day, how to prevent more tragedies from happening.

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