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Study links creativity and mental illness

Scientist have for the first time proven the old wives' tale linking creativity and mental illness. The ability to solve complex problems in a creative way is, like schizophrenia, linked to levels of dopamine in the brain

Swedish scientists have discovered a link between creative thinking and dopamine levels in the thalamus in the brain, which play a part in mental illness.

Dopamine was discovered as a neurotransmitter in its own right in Sweden in 1958, and apparently their interest on the matter hasn’t diminished over the years.

According to the press release from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, levels of dopamine in the thalamus are lower in both schizophrenics and highly creative people.

Creative connections

A link between creativity, genius and insanity has often been made, although it has just as often been dismissed as an old wives tale. Now there is evidence that links creativity to a higher risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

»We have studied the brain and the dopamine D2 receptors, and have shown that the dopamine system of healthy, highly creative people is similar to that found in people with schizophrenia,« says Associate Professor Fredrik Ullén from Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Woman and Child Health.

Psychological traits like making unusual and bizarre associations are shared by both schizophrenics and healthy, highly creative people.

Previous studies have shown that dopamine receptor genes are linked to divergent thought. Dr Ullén measured the creativity of healthy individuals, conducting psychological tests wherein the aim was to find many, varied solutions to a problem.

Thinking outside the box

The thalamus is a form of relay centre in the brain, filtering information before it reaches areas of the cortex responsible for cognition and reasoning.

»Fewer D2 receptors in the thalamus probably means a lower degree of signal filtering, and thus a higher flow of information from the thalamus,« says Dr Ullén.

This, he explains, could explain the ability of healthy highly creative people to come up with several uncommon connections in a problem-solving situation, as well as the bizarre associations found in the mentally ill.

»Thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box,« he adds.

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