The Association Between Creativity and Psychopathology: Part III

Creativity and Mood Disorders

          The works of Andreasen, Jamison, and Ludwig focused primarily on the hypothesized link between creativity and mood disorders, and the majority of anecdotal evidence supporting a creativity-psychopathology link involved cases of major depression and bipolar disorder (schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and other mental illnesses were given much less attention in the literature). Verhaeghen, Joormann, and Khan (2005) state that “a wide range of studies using diverse methods clearly suggest a connection” between creative behavior and mood disorders, though, unsurprisingly, this proclamation is followed by citations for Andreasen (1987), Ludwig (1994; 1995), and Jamison (1993) (p. 226). While Verhaeghen and colleagues accepted these well-known studies as empirically sound, they also expressed puzzlement regarding one facet of the purported connection: even though correlation does not equal causation, implicit in the conclusions of the “Big Three” is the assumption that psychopathology leads to enhanced creativity. This seems counterintuitive given that the defining symptoms of depression—anhedonia, lack of motivation, loss of energy, inability to concentrate, etc.—are the antithesis of what creativity requires. With the help of some relevant anecdotes, the authors assert that depressive episodes actually decrease creative productivity, and therefore they hypothesize that a direct relationship between the two is unlikely. They suggest that a third variable—namely, self-reflective rumination—mediates the link between creativity and depression (Verhaeghen et al., 2005).

          The researchers predicted that self-reflective rumination would be correlated with both depressive symptomatology and creative behavior, and they used multiple measures of the creativity construct, including a self-report questionnaire on creative interests, the Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults (ATTA; Goff & Torrance, 2002), and select items from the Purdue Creativity Test (PCT; Lawshe & Harris, 1960) (as cited in Verhaeghen et al., 2005). The questionnaire assessed interest in and seriousness about various artistic and creative activities, such as painting, writing, drawing, photography, acting, etc. The ATTA presented participants with three activities. In the first of these, participants were asked to imagine what would happen if they ‘could walk on air or fly’ and to make a list of problems that this might create. In the second and third activities, participant were presented with a variety of abstract shapes and asked to use the shapes to create ‘unusual’ and ‘interesting’ pictures and to give each picture a title. The ATTA is scored on three scales: “Fluency is the number of distinct answers generated. Originality is the number of responses that do not appear on the list of common answers provided by the test manual. Elaboration is the number of details contained within the answers; the test manual provides strict scoring criteria for these” (p. 227). Finally, the PCT presented participants with abstract line drawings and asked, ‘What is this?’ The total number of responses generated in two minutes were tallied for the fluency score (Verhaeghen et al., 2005).

          Measures of depressive symptomatology included the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977, as cited in Verhaeghen et al., 2005), a self-report questionnaire in which participants reported the frequency of specific depressive symptoms within the past week, as well as a checklist of past depressive symptoms, for which participants were instructed to indicate whether they had experienced any of 10 symptoms within the past year, for a period of two weeks or longer. Self-reflective rumination was evaluated using a ‘5-item subset of nondepression-related items’ from the Ruminative Responses Scale (RRS; Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1991, as cited in Verhaeghen et al., 2005); these items were chosen to try to isolate pure rumination-as-reflection, or ‘reflectiveness,’ from rumination that is tied directly to depression (p. 228).

          As predicted, results indicated that the correlation between depression and creativity was not direct, but rather due to the link between both of these variables and self-reflective rumination. This relationship can be conceptualized in a couple of different ways: A writer with a biological diathesis for depression may spend a lot of time introspecting and ruminating, and this, in turn, may increase the risk of symptom expression. Alternatively, individuals suffering from depression are more likely to ruminate, and some of these individuals might express these feelings via creative outlets, such as writing. The authors propose a model in which depression explains some of the variance in creative behavior, but only through its relationship with rumination, and the majority of the variance in self-reflective rumination is unexplained by past depression. They theorize that self-reflective rumination itself could influence creative behavior through two pathways: motivation and ability. Reflectiveness might promote seriousness about creative endeavors, which would increase an individual’s motivation to become proficient in a given domain. Or, because self-reflectiveness increases creative fluency, it could have a direct effect on creative ability through increased production of novel/original ideas (Verhaeghen et al., 2005).  

          The authors conclude that, even though depressive and bipolar disorders appear to be “linked” to creativity, depressive symptomatology is not responsible for this link—self-reflective rumination is the mediator, and positive affect therefore must be responsible for any enhanced productivity. They suggest that depressive symptoms might influence the content of creative works, and, during periods of improved functioning in which the creative process is not hindered, this content emerges during creative production (Verhaeghen et al., 2005). This is an interesting new way to think about the nature of the potential link between mood disorders and creativity, but the underlying assumption of the study—that the correlation between mental illness and creativity has been empirically validated—must garner more evidence before too many conclusions can be drawn.

{Next up–Current Directions: Creativity and Schizotypy…}

References:

Verhaeghen, P., Joormann, J., & Khan, R. (2005). Why we sing the blues: The relations between self-reflective rumination, mood, and creativity. Emotion, 5(2), 226-232.

For more on creativity and mood disorders:

Santosa, C. M., Strong, C. M., Nowakowska, C., Wang, P. W., Rennicke, C. M., & Ketter, T.A. (2007). Enhanced creativity in bipolar disorder patients: A controlled study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 100, 31-39.

Strong, C. M., Nowakowska, C., Santosa, C. M., Wang, P. W., Kraemer, H. C., & Ketter, T. A. (2007). Journal of Affective Disorders, 100, 41-48.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. jhartburnett
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 23:50:47

    Some of the most creative people you will meet are those who have learned to live with a mood disorder. It might be correlated as above, but I think there is also an aspect of creativity as a survival skill. Creativity may not be a choice, but something that is thrust on someone with a mood disorder more strongly in order to try to get along with the external world successfully.

    Reply

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