“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.”- Aristotle
Today, doctors are ready to prescribe pharmaceuticals at the first signs of a mood disorder in order to control any unpredictable behavior. But, are they potentially stifling genius thought processes? As it turns out, many mood disorders have been positively linked to higher levels of intelligence and creativity.
Since ancient times, people have associated “madness” with creative genius, believing the gods had blessed these individuals. These beliefs have carried on to the modern times, leading to the understanding of the infamous phenomenon of artistic temperament or the tortured artist characterization. Recently, researchers have discovered why this happens.
Writers and Mood Disorders
In the late 1980’s, researchers compared a sample group of writers to a control group of non-writers in order to identify the presence of mental disorders. Their findings concluded that the majority of writers did, indeed, have higher rates of mood disorders. In fact, 80% of the sample group had a mood disorder with a tendency toward bipolar disorder. The study was replicated with some different criterion and included a wider range of writers who had won awards. The researchers did not diagnose them, but rather asked if the subjects had received treatment for mental disorders. In this study, 38% of the participants had received treatment, and 63% of those were playwrights.
Types of Mood Disorders
As previously mentioned, the link between creative intelligence and mood disorders has long been established. But, what exactly are the common mood disorders found in intelligent people? Some of the most influential artists of all time were inflicted with bipolar disorder, mania, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
Bipolar disorder seems to be the most common of the mood disorders in highly intelligent and creative people. For example, in one study, it has been shown to be four times more likely in young adults who earned straight A’s in school. This finding was particularly true for high achievers in language, music, and math classes. Another study found that people with a genetic likelihood of developing bipolar disorder were also likely to express higher creative intelligence. This was shown to be true in literature and leadership roles. This mood disorder leads to periods of depression followed by periods of mania, characterized by extreme happiness, ambition, and creativity.
The Burden of High Intelligence
Not only does a high IQ come with the propensity for mood disorders, but also risky behaviors like drug and alcohol use. This is because drug and alcohol consumption is a relatively new occurrence on the human evolutionary timeline making it an evolutionarily novel concept. Children who were considered the brightest in their classroom are more likely to grow up and experiment with drugs and alcohol as several studies have suggested.
Brain Power, Social Interaction, and Autism
Medical researchers suggest that the human brain controls several different areas of survival. One of these, social interaction, takes up a large part of the brain’s functionality. This area of the brain helps with the development of cooperation, empathy, and altruism. When this brain function is non-existent or underdeveloped, a large quantity of cerebral activity is liberated for other uses.
In the right person, this extra brain power can be channeled into creative energy. These individuals may go on to create moving pieces of art, explanations of previously misunderstood world processes, or even refining mathematical research. Lacking the social interactive part of brain functionality and replacing it with creative intelligence may be related to diagnoses of autism.
Brain Activity and Creative Intelligence
Other researchers have explained that when a person comes out of depression or other mood disorder episodes, the activity in the brain changes. In the lower part of the frontal lobe, brain activity decreases and shifts to the upper part of the lobe. This same brain activity is noted when people are experiencing creativity. Additionally, people with mood disorders do not have the same processing filters for outside stimuli as people without these disorders. These people are able to process contradictory ideas at the same time thereby identifying associations among previously unassociated ideas. This thought process can be overwhelming for individuals, but this also results in creative productivity.
Whether it is the mood disorder that leads to higher intelligence or the higher intelligence that leads to mood disorders, continues to be a point of contention for many researchers. One thing is certain, the two are most certainly connected.
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