There is a fundamental genetic connection between creativity and psychosis, research shows.
So, when you think of legends like Charlie Chaplin, Robin Williams, Van Gogh and others, understand that their immense creative talent came with a bit of craziness.
Apparently, people with a bit of schizophrenia are a little more likely to be crazy. The opposite is true. The part of the brain that is particularly active in schizophrenics also tends to be more active in people who are more creative. And according to a study published in Nature Neuroscience, the genetics of madness and creativity are similar.
Although the genetic makeup of your parents might determine with certainty what color your eyes will be, they might not be absolute determinants of your intelligence or the risk of suffering from certain chronic conditions. But they do play a role as far as increasing your propensity to have certain traits.
That is what happens with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Some genes can predict how likely you are to get either of these traits.
Specifically, people with an abnormal dopamine receptor D2 gene (DRD2) are especially likely to have schizophrenia. A study in 2014 discovered that 108 such genes related to schizophrenia in some way or another. In fact, scientists have been able to come up with a schizophrenic ‘polygenic risk score’ which can tell how likely you are to suffer from schizophrenia. The same thing has worked with bipolar disorder.
But that does not mean these genes cause schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. There are a couple of possibilities here. The conditions probably magnify, adjust or even rearrange these genes. It is also possible that the changes seen in these genes came about due to a different causal factor. But still, within these genes possibly lies the answer as to why some people would rightly be labeled as ‘mad’ or ‘crazy.’
So, the question becomes: do high polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder predict higher levels of creativity?
The only way to know the truth, unfortunately, would be to collect and analyze genome and creativity scores of thousands of people. People who would have greater creativity without increased mental health risk and vice versa would undermine the entire proposition. So, a sample of 10 people would not do, and neither would 100 or 1000.
Scientists, however, managed to get 82,696 people!
That’s incredible, and the only reason researchers had access to this information was because Iceland’s national healthcare system has a genetic health history of most of its patients. For this reason, the country has become the leading genetic lab in the world.
But even with this information, which would make it understandably easier to decode the polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia, ranking the creativity scores for all these people cannot possibly be easy. You cannot issue 82,000 questionnaires.
But they found an ingenious solution. They looked into records held by artistic societies and pooled data from musicians, dancers, visual artists, writers, and even actors.
As it turns out, and not surprisingly we might note, these people had higher polygenic risk scores for mental illness. This more assuredly proves that a link exists between creativity and psychosis.
Even when family genetic connections were discounted, the connection between the genetics of mental illness and creativity were still pretty strong.
Overall, the scientists came to the conclusion that creativity brings with it an increase in psychiatric disorder risk, as the two traits are genetically related.