November 10, 2005
Children Of Bipolar Parents More Creative

Creative and mentally ill parents have creative and mentally ill children.

STANFORD, Calif. – Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have shown for the first time that a sample of children who either have or are at high risk for bipolar disorder score higher on a creativity index than healthy children. The findings add to existing evidence that a link exists between mood disorders and creativity.

The small study, published in the November issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research, compared creativity test scores of children of healthy parents with the scores of children of bipolar parents. Children with the bipolar parents—even those who were not bipolar themselves—scored higher than the healthy children.

“I think it’s fascinating,” said Kiki Chang, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and co-author of the paper. “There is a reason that many people who have bipolar disorder become very successful, and these findings address the positive aspects of having this illness.”

Obviously genetics plays an important role in creativity, ADHD, and bipolar disorder.

Artists have higher rates of mental illness.

Many scientists believe that a relationship exists between creativity and bipolar disorder, which was formerly called manic-depressive illness and is marked by dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. Numerous studies have examined this link; several have shown that artists and writers may have two to three times more incidences of psychosis, mood disorders or suicide when compared with people in less creative professions.

Terence Ketter, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a study co-author, said he became interested in the link between mental illness and creativity after noticing that patients who came through the bipolar clinic, despite having problems, were extraordinarily bright, motivated people who “tended to lead interesting lives.” He began a scholarly pursuit of this link and in 2002 published a study that showed healthy artists were more similar in personality to individuals with bipolar disorder (the majority of whom were on medication) than to healthy people in the general population.

Some people with higher intellectual capabilities might be able to handle their bipolar and ADHD and still manage to be productive. But less bright people are probably more likely to be overwhelmed by their mental illness and unable to harness their creativity for productive purposes. But do the genetic variations that contribute to causing bipolar also raise IQ?

People who use their negative emotions to initiate searches for solutions to problems tend to be more creative.

Some researchers believe that bipolar disorder or mania, a defining symptom of the disease, causes creative activity. Ketter said he believes that bipolar patients’ creativity stems from their mobilizing energy that results from negative emotion to initiate some sort of solution to their problems. “In this case, discontent is the mother of invention,” he said.

The children of parents with bipolar disorder were themselves either bipolar or had ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

During the study, the researchers looked at creative characteristics in 40 bipolar patients and 40 offspring, comparing them with 18 healthy adults and 18 healthy offspring. The children in the study ranged in age from 10 to 18. Half of the children of bipolar patients also had bipolar disorder; the other half had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, which appears to be an early sign of bipolar disorder in offspring of parents with the condition. The majority of participants with bipolar or ADHD were on medication.

The researchers included children with ADHD so they could study creativity before the onset of full bipolar disorder. “We wanted to see whether having a manic episode is necessary for this sort of creativity,” said Chang, who also directs the Pediatric Bipolar Disorders Program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

Study participants were given psychiatric evaluations and then completed the Barron-Welsh Art Scale, or BWAS, a test that seeks to provide an objective measure of creativity. The scoring is based on “like” and “dislike” responses to figures of varying complexity and symmetry; past studies suggest that creative people tend to dislike the simple and symmetric symbols.

The researchers found that the bipolar parents had 120 percent higher BWAS “dislike” scores than the healthy parents. The children with bipolar and the children with ADHD had, respectively, 107 and 91 percent higher BWAS dislike scores than the healthy children.

“The results of this study support an association between bipolar disease and creativity and contribute to a better understanding of possible mechanisms of transmission of creativity in families with genetic susceptibility for bipolar disease,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

On the bright side, the bipolar mania stage is not needed to cause creativity. The presence of ADHD alone boosts creativity. The problem, though, is that people with ADHD might be full of ideas. But many lack the patience needed to translate their ideas into implementations. If you can't stand to focus long enough to write down the melody or story line you see in your head or to draw a mechanical design that you've thought of your creativity doesn't do you or the world much good.

The researchers had hypothesized that the scores of children with ADHD would differ significantly from the scores of bipolar children so they were surprised when the scores did not. Chang said this indicates that mania is not what is fueling the creativity. “The kids with ADHD who hadn’t been manic yet still had very high levels of creativity,” he said.

Being mentally ill for a longer time erodes the BWAS dislike score. Mentally ill people burn out and cease to be creative.

The researchers also found a link between the length of a bipolar child’s illness and creativity: the longer a child was sick or manic, the lower the BWAS dislike score. It makes sense, Chang said, that this illness could, over time, erode one’s creativity. “After awhile you aren’t able to function and you can’t access your creativity,” he explained.

We all get less creative with age.

BWAS dislike scores tend to decrease with age even in healthy individuals, so more research is needed, Ketter said. Further studies are also needed to assess the role of genetic and environmental factors in creativity and bipolar, he added. The team plans to next examine whether the degree of creativity in parents correlates with the degree of creativity in their children.

If the mental illness eventually leads to declining creatvitiy by causeing neuronal cell death then perhaps the development of treatments based on Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) will provide ways to preserve neurons and creativity as the years and decades go by.

Maybe one cause of hyperactivity is a low threshold for noticing external stimuli. See my previous post "Low Latent Inhibition Plus High Intelligence Leads To High Creativity?"

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 November 10 08:49 AM  Brain Creativity

Rob said at November 10, 2005 7:24 PM:

I'm ADHD like crazy, and I'm fairly creative. It is crazy hard for me to get an idea into a usable form because of concentration and organization problems.

I've also noticed that the people who think ideas are cheap, or ideas are a dime a dozen, or whatever, never have many.

degustibus said at November 12, 2005 10:46 PM:

I'm a fucking genius m'self, always have been. A bit nuts too, if you ask me. Creative as all get out. I get ideas all the time. I have to run twice as fast just to stay in the same place. Like the Red Queen if you ask me.

Bipolar? Naw, I'm tripolar.

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