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Mood swings and creativity: new clues.

Mood swings and creativity: New clues

For centuries there has been speculation that creativity is somehow linked to "insanity' or mental illness, although scientific studies of the suspected connection are sparse. Nancy C. Andreasen of the University of Iowa College of Medicine in Iowa City now reports that, at least among a small group of creative writers, there is a close association between creativity and "affective disorders' such as depression and manic depression.

Reasons for this relationship remain unclear. "Nevertheless,' says Andreasen in the October AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY, "affective disorder may produce some cultural advantages for society as a whole, in spite of the individual pain and suffering that it also causes.'

During the past 15 years, Andreasen interviewed 30 faculty members at the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, one of the best-known creative writing programs in the country. She also interviewed 30 control subjects of comparable age, sex and education, whose occupations included hospital administration, law and social work.

Andreasen found that 80 percent of the writers had had an episode of either severe depression or manic depression --either with a pronounced mania characterized by euphoria, increased energy and poor judgment, or a milder "hypomania'--at some time in their lives. Schizophrenia, marked by severe thought disorders, was absent in the sample, but 30 percent of the writers were diagnosed as alcoholic. Depression or manic depression occurred among 30 percent of the controls, and 7 percent were alcoholic. None of the controls was schizophrenic.

The writers also reported significantly more first-degree relatives with creative achievements in a variety of fields, including literature, art and music. The breadth of creativity in these families suggests that a "general factor' predisposing to creative success may be genetically transmitted, says Andreasen. Average intelligence, as measured by several IQ tests, was virtually the same for writers and controls.

Andreasen's report follows a 1983 study by Washington, D.C., psychologist Kay Jamison of 47 top British artists and writers. More than one-third reported having sought treatment for depression or manic depression. Poets and play-wrights in the study were most likely to have severe mood disorders or dramatic mood swings.

Twenty artists in France, including writers, painters, sculptors and musicians, are being examined by Kareen and Hagop Akiskal of the University of Tennessee in Memphis and psychiatrists at the University of Paris. The ongoing study consists of extensive interviews and includes 20 comparison subjects in other occupations.

"So far, the most striking aspect of the artists is their temperament, not the presence of major psychiatric disorders,' says Hagop Akiskal. "Since their teens and 20s, they've been moody people with emotional ups and downs.'

Nearly 70 percent of the artists have some type of affective disorder, notes Akiskal. The most common diagnoses are a moderate form of manic depression or even milder, intermittent periods of mood swings. More severe mood disorders, he says, probably disrupt an artist's career.

Furthermore, a recent study of 750 psychiatric patients in Memphis conducted by the Akiskals found that those with mild manic depression or mood swings were more likely to be creative artists. But the same diagnoses also appeared in excess among people who were successful in business and leadership positions, says Hagop Akiskal. Studies of creativity and affective disorders need to consider distinguished people who are not artists, he points out.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 24, 1987
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