September 11, 2005
Brain Scans Show Why Schizotypal Personalities More Creative

Schizotypal personalities are more creative.

New research on individuals with schizotypal personalities – people characterized by odd behavior and language but who are not psychotic or schizophrenic – offers the first neurological evidence that they are more creative than either normal or fully schizophrenic individuals, and rely more heavily on the right sides of their brains than the general population to access their creativity.

The work by Vanderbilt psychologists Brad Folley and Sohee Park was published online last week by the journal Schizophrenia Research.

"The idea that schizotypes have enhanced creativity has been out there for a long time but no one has investigated the behavioral manifestations and their neural correlates experimentally," Folley says. "Our paper is unique because we investigated the creative process experimentally and we also looked at the blood flow in the brain while research subjects were undergoing creative tasks."

Folley and Park conducted two experiments to compare the creative thinking processes of schizotypes, schizophrenics and normal control subjects. In the first experiment, the researchers showed research subjects a variety of household objects and asked them to make up new functions for them. The results showed that the schizotypes were better able to creatively suggest new uses for the objects, while the schizophrenics and average subjects performed similarly to one another.

"Thought processes for individuals with schizophrenia are often very disorganized, almost to the point where they can’t really be creative because they cannot get all of their thoughts coherent enough to do that," Folley observes. "Schizotypes, on the other hand, are free from the severe, debilitating symptoms surrounding schizophrenia and also have an enhanced creative ability."

So then is creativity just the result of unusual brain anatomy?

Brain scans showed that schizotypes use more of their right hemispheres for creative work than do normal or schizophrenic people.

In the second experiment, the three groups again were asked to identify new uses for everyday objects as well as to perform a basic control task while the activity in their prefrontal lobes was monitored using a brain scanning techniques called near-infrared optical spectroscopy. The brain scans showed that all groups used both brain hemispheres for creative tasks, but that the activation of the right hemispheres of the schizotypes was dramatically greater than that of the schizophrenic and average subjects, suggesting a positive benefit of schizotypy.

"In the scientific community, the popular idea that creativity exists in the right side of the brain is thought to be ridiculous, because you need both hemispheres of your brain to make novel associations and to perform other creative tasks," Folley says. "We found that all three groups, schizotypes, schizophrenics and normal controls, did use both hemispheres when performing creative tasks. But the brain scans of the schizotypes showed a hugely increased activation of the right hemisphere compared to the schizophrenics and the normal controls."

Suppose the schizotypes have some genetic component to how their brains work. Once genetic engineering of offspring becomes possible or even once detailed genetic testing of fertilized eggs becomes possible will future parents make choices that decrease the fraction of the population that have brain wiring that make them especially creative?

Or, more optimistically, will genetic variations be found that increase creativity while lowering risk of mental disorders?

Also see my previous posts "Low Latent Inhibition Plus High Intelligence Leads To High Creativity?" and "Brain Scans Show Working Memory, Moments Of Insight".

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 September 11 03:55 PM  Brain Creativity

Brock said at September 11, 2005 5:32 PM:

I think a lot of people like themselves the way they are, and will want their children to be the same. An artsy, creative couple is likely to ask for an artsy, creative child, rather than an accountant.

This won't be wholly irrational either, because I'll bet that a lot of the genetic choices people will be able to make are going to be tradeoffs of one kind or another. We all have to live with our limitations, so if being schiztypal is the price we pay for being creative, so be it. They'll deal with their situation by using exercises, tools, or drugs to control the 'downside' of their condition.

mariana said at September 11, 2005 6:50 PM:

Can you give a better description of what schizotypal personalities are like? Odd behavior and language? How? I guess I'd like examples. How are they odd? Do they seem normal when you speak with them or would they come off as a freak? Are they so odd they have trouble functioning?

Nectar said at September 12, 2005 2:18 AM:

From the International Statistical Classification of Diseases, published by the World Health Organization:

Schizotypal disorder is a disorder characterized by eccentric behaviour and anomalies of thinking and affect which resemble those seen in schizophrenia, though no definite and characteristic schizophrenic anomalies have occurred at any stage. There is no dominant or typical disturbance, but any of the following may be present:

* inappropriate or constricted affect (the individual appears cold and aloof);
* behaviour or appearance that is odd, eccentric, or peculiar;
* poor rapport with others and a tendency to social withdrawal;
* odd beliefs or magical thinking, influencing behaviour and inconsistent with subcultural norms;
* suspiciousness or paranoid ideas;
* obsessive ruminations without inner resistance, often with dysmorphophobic, sexual or aggressive contents;
* unusual perceptual experiences including somatosensory (bodily) or other illusions, depersonalization or derealization;
* vague, circumstantial, metaphorical, overelaborate, or stereotyped thinking, manifested by odd speech or in other ways, without gross incoherence;
* occasional transient quasi-psychotic episodes with intense illusions, auditory or other hallucinations, and delusion-like ideas, usually occurring without external provocation.

Jim said at September 12, 2005 9:07 AM:

it seems related to borderline autistic people.

your kids probably wouldn't fit in as well as 'normal' kids, and it's not necessarily a preferable trait for an individual, rather a nice trait for more scientists/entrepreneurs in this country to possess.

Bulldog said at September 12, 2005 12:37 PM:

Sounds like some of the most creative kids get the shit beat out of them growing up. I wonder what that does to their overall outlook? A lot of these people are probably being medicated to make them more "normal." The western world may be more individualistic than some cultures but we're not above beating down the protruding nail when we feel like it.
I've always distrusted conventional psychiatric classification systems. There's no consideration of actual neuroscience in these schemes. That means that a lot of syndromes considered distinct by the classification scheme are probably variants of the same underlying neurological/epigenetic/genetic phenomenon.

Tj Green said at September 12, 2005 2:26 PM:

I think of schizophrenia/bipolar,psychopathy and dyslexia(Bedtime stories seem to be the best way to improve childrens reading ability)as a schizotypal link. Most are male,and they tend to lack empathy. Seventy percent of creative writers fall into this schizophrenic/bipolar group. Great works of art,music,and literature would have been produced in creative manic episodes. Schizophrenia is found in all races. If we rule out divine intervention(because it would violate our free will),then all modern humans would be the descendents of a child,born with the schizophrenic genome,somewhhere on the east coast of Africa.

Joseph said at September 12, 2005 2:30 PM:


I can attest to your comments about physical assault. That didn't last long in my case since I inherited a basically neanderthal physique at a young age with the inherent ability to overhead press said bullies and throw them across rooms.

I would observe that while such types may be potentially more creative that premise does not allways come to fruitation. Far to often such hightened creativity expresses itself only as further social withdrawl with the individual spending most of his/her conciouse energy in "daydreaming" (for lack of a better term).

I would strongly recommend that should the ability to ever select for this be available that it should immediately be outlawed. You may get creative and productive individuals, more likely the individual will be withdrawn and creatively nuetral but there is also the potential for some of the most dangerous criminal behavior imaginable.

ab said at September 12, 2005 3:34 PM:

I wonder if they tested the "full schizophrenics" w/o typical medication.

apocalypse said at September 12, 2005 8:18 PM:

I seem to fit most of the above characteristics of a "Schizotypal". The dreams and goals most societies tell one to accept, do nothing for me. Most of their laws, norms, restrictions, taboos, I often venture pass them in my thoughts. Neither do the common afterlife myths. All of these things seem kind of meaningless/pointless. At present it's the nature of the world, the gracefulness, the elegance and beauty that can exist in it that have drawn my attention. It's my goal to bring forth more wonders that would be labelled by many as 'ideal', and to prolong the existence of such as long as can be.

"You may get creative and productive individuals, more likely the individual will be withdrawn and creatively nuetral but there is also the potential for some of the most dangerous criminal behavior imaginable."

These are the things that frighten me, becoming mediocre or errant. Erring is not graceful, and mediocrity is just as distasteful.

rob said at September 15, 2005 8:21 AM:

I thought the measurement technique was cool: near infrared optical spectroscopy. They can see how much heat a brain gives off to see how hard your working.

This may also mean we can train creativity. It would also explian 2 blowhards contention about the culturati and how they hate most people.

This is a very interesting find.

Tj Green said at September 15, 2005 4:35 PM:

Apocalypse. If our theories about the multiverse,and quantum physics are true,then the belief in an afterlife is not a myth.

jared said at November 21, 2005 2:05 AM:

reading all that has been posted i am intrigued but haunted by the things i've read. i am a creative abstract musician who has been searching for a long time for an answer on why i feel so different and share such different view than the majority of people in my life. i can truly relate with some of these symtoms and i really want to get better. i've been thinking about going to a physhiatrist and share how i feel. i hate to size myself up with anything but i feel like it will help to know the truth. do you think i could have this disorder? feel free to email me i would really appreciate talking to a professional who would help me thanks -jared

heliumhead said at February 7, 2006 12:35 PM:

Well HELLO THERE. I AM schizotypal so they say. I can answer to a few aforementioned ponderings. I can tell you we are all mythmakers. I believe until you have CREATED your own, you are not free..and then you live. How long we have pantomimed throughout earthly experience realizing others' myths. births...walking on water...talking bushes. Science...we are a helium ball floating in a void of something so we call it a universe. Quantum physics?--what's going on there? You mean to tell us there's no certainty? Certainly.

I can tell you all religions and sciences began with a schizotype... First the mystical or imaginive experience, and then, the formation of a made-up equation (math is very abstract and is as we have decided it to be) and then the equation is professed to the scientific peers of the times , then becomes celebrated fact, then we create and incvent on it. All of scientific history is one myth atop another. Yeah. We are creators. I've written my myth and I'm free but its stuck in my head and I want to free everyone but it is not a good thing really for when you see this way you are an alien. So I am now looking to be sedated, to be deluded so that I can be reasonabley happy here. I have studied all of philosphy and have grad school and I can tell you sometimes you can learn and see just too damn much.

Did you know we--that is you and me and all atom-holding things or beings--ARE the living God. It's really so simple. Stop making excuses you warmongers.

krentz said at September 13, 2008 5:36 PM:

I'm apparently rather Schizotypal according to the diagnostic criteria, but as with many 'professional' or 'medical' formal conditions such as Avoidant Personality Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (both of which I also possess traits from, but would not be considered to have a 'disorder' because they do not 'hinder' me in day to day life) I consider it a farce. People are trying to categorize what I believe are natural aspects of personality taken to an extreme.

For a lot of people here having difficulty relating to the apparently unique way they perceive life, the universe, and everything, I would recommend doing some research on Keirsey's Temperament Sorter and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I'm an INFP with pretty strong preferences in them all, although I am quite comfortable extraverting or thinking logically where required. Please research these types and disregard your cynicism for the duration, it may serve to provide you with a profound insight as to the natural differences in people's perceptions, mannerisms and worldview. Not that everything can be pinpointed to type - of course to believe such would be a terrible fallacy - but it is often cathartic for the smallest minorities to have their existence validated by an outside source.

One particular quandry always seems to hound me: I am a creative and artistic individual at heart, even though I have not had much of a creative outlet recently. It strikes me as somewhat odd that many of the areas associated with right brain dominance: spirituality, abstract thinking, daydreaming, imaginations, perceived inattentiveness, emotional sensitivity or empathy, creativity and inspiration, nontemporal feelings, intuition and so on... are also used as building blocks with which to describe what a large amount of the modern society declares to be a disorder.

Well, I'm just not buying it. None of my differences have ever caused me substantial problems, and have in fact enabled me to live what I would consider a richer and fuller life, for if I had no struggles I could not become a better individual. That's not to say I haven't learned better social skills or don't enjoy living in the present moment, talking about more mundane things. But I often feel as though I am withholding the great intensity of my inner light in order not to blind others; but have faith, there are others who can relate, and are able to appreciate the full luminosity in all its inherent beauty without fear. Sadly, such individuals are rare. If you are anything like me, however, knowing merely a select few people can help.

I also don't think being overly elaborate is a problem. I happen to rather enjoy my verbal gymnastics. I think I'd be quite boring otherwise! Even though many people can find me far too confusing or abstract if I do not withhold myself yet again. Perhaps it is you with the problem.

Joking, of course.

meaghan said at October 13, 2008 3:09 PM:

i would have to agree with alot of the above people. I am only 18 years old, but believe if i went into a doctors office today and asked for some tests i would be "diagnosed" OCD, ADHD, Bipolar, Schizotypal, and who knows what else. i function normally, and have no problems to complain about. i believe many of these "diseases" (such as Obesity) are simply personality traits rather than something needing to be "cured". all people are different, who says where the line should be drawn between a little energitic, and ADD, or a little to organized and OCD...etc. maybe i dont know what im talking about but it seems to me the world has gone a little crazy naming every tweak in a personality, every qwirk a person has as a need to be "fixed" if we keep up like this...who knows we may all end up the same. with no personality to our own. although i may have exagerated that last part just a bit...
thanks for listening.
-Meaghan A. O'Grady-
Sallisaw, OK.

Lekatt said at March 7, 2012 9:55 AM:

Psychiatry has become a huge industry making people feel crazy even if they're not. Just stop reading these illnesses too much, and "get a life". If you feel very uncomfortable, and anxious around another people just do see a shrink, not keep saying "I must have this disorder".

Jerno said at August 9, 2015 3:33 PM:

I agree with you, 2 days ago I read this argument called "Ideologia y enfermedad mental" that translate to english is called "Ideology and Mental Illness", that actually is made by a psychologist.. I'm going to quote this from that argument: "If the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker says they persecute the communists, it is promptly dispatched to the hospital or neuropsychiatric; but if defense secretary says that, who can deny it?". If you go with someone and told them that the goverment is stealing our money and even our lifes (we work to pay the government), they will call us crazy.

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