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Manic depression: risk and creativity.

Manic depression: Risk and creativity

The rather mysterious relationship between creativity and mood disorders, such as depression and manic depression, is drawing increasing research attention. A recent study, for example, suggested elite creative writers experience more episodes of depression and manic depression than the population at large (SN: 10/24/87, p. 262).

Investigators at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., now report a heightened level of "everyday" creativity -- encompassing vocational and spare-time pursuits -- among people who undergo relatively mild mood swings as well as the healthy relatives of manic depressives. Full-blown manic depressives are less creative than these two groups but show more creativity than control subjects.

"The data suggest that enhanced creativity may be a positive characteristic associated with an inherited liability for manic depression," says psychologist Dennis K. Kinney, who conducted the research with psychiatrist Ruth Richards and several others.

Kinney and his co-workers studied 17 manic depressives, 11 of their parents and siblings with no psychiatric diagnoses and 16 individuals with a mild form of mood swings. Controls had no family history of mood disorders; 15 had no psychiatric disorders and 18 had some diagnosis other than mood disorder, such as anxiety disorder. All the individuals were part of a larger adoption study recently conducted in Denmark.

Extensive transcribed interviews with each participant allowed the McLean researchers to assess creativity with a series of scales designed to tap a variety of work and free-time activities. "We're not trying to measure creative genius, " Kinney says. "For instance, creative people in our sample may paint in their spare time, write poetry, start their own business or come up with novel ways to improve their work environment."

The researchers previously tested the creativity scales with more than 300 psychiatrically healthy subjects from the Danish adoption study. The technique appears to give an accurate estimate of everyday types of creativity, but Kinney notes it is not yet clear it respondents typically exaggerate or downplay their own creative activities.

Individuals with mild mood swings or with manic depressive relatives tend to express their creative potential in different ways, explain the researchers in the August JOURNAL OF ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY. Those with manic depressive relatives show the highest creativity in avocational pursuits, while those with mild mood swings are more creative at work.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 3, 1988
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