More Research Like This, Please!

There is a neurochemical link between psychosis and creativity, according to psychiatrist Szabolcs Keri of Semmelweis University in Hungary. He studied neuregulin 1, a gene that typically is involved with neuron development and communication. A variant genotype, though, is associated with a great risk of developing mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar.

Keri studied a bunch of people who considered themselves creative and had them undergo assessments for intelligence and creativity. They also gave information on their lifetime creative achievements. Those who had the variant genotype of neuregulin 1 scored higher on the creativity assessment and had greater lifetime creative achievements. So, and wait for it, because this is exciting – a study has shown that a genotype associated with psychosis is also associated with traits and functions that people think are good and beneficial!

I don’t love the methodology of the study – measuring creativity is a difficult task in a scientific study, but I love the idea of somehow documenting something I believe about myself: my disability is not exclusively defined by diminished or impaired functioning, but also by abilities or skills beyond those of neurotypicals. I believe that we, in general, not just disability activists, should be thinking about and talking about and studying this perspective more.

(h/t Greysteppenwolf)

15 thoughts on “More Research Like This, Please!

  1. Awesome! I’m a complicated gal. I’ve been diagnosed with OCD, I am pretty sure I have dyscalculia (I can’t do maths for sh*t) and I know I had learning difficulties in school. I also suffer from depression and anxiety. And PTSD from a recent bad experience. So a lot of people might think I’m a mess.

    But damn, can I paint a picture. I’m pretty good at singing too. In fact, anything creative, I can do. Calligraphy, macrame, sculpture, mosiac, pottery, theatre make-up, general beauty make-up, dress-making, costuming, digital art and design, singing, writing music, writing stories, writing scripts – I’m a Jacqueline of a Buttload of Trades. And I’d like to think that my brain, being limited in other areas, has just gone “KABLOOM” in the ones where it had freedom and hence, I’m awesome because of my disabilities/mental difficulties.

    And it’s great to see a scientist trying to prove this in people. Cause it’s so true.

  2. I’m Disability 101 level here, so please bear with me. I’m bipolar, I’m creative, I’m a feminist, so these conversations are important to me and also often quite relevant.

    I am glad that they are doing this research. I think it’s really incredibly important that we try to understand how this relationship, if it exists (and I believe – absolutely believe – that it does), actually works. I would be over the moon if it were *proven* that something considered “bad” was linked scientifically to something considered “good,” because it would help break down the idea that disabled people have nothing useful to contribute to society. Now if we could just work on society’s inability to recognize creative achievement and intelligence as the wonderful things that they are. . . . *grin*

    But. Because this has been bothering me literally all night, I also want to point out that the idea that mental illnesses or other disabilities come with built-in compensations is a problematic one for me and for many others, because it very easily becomes an *expectation,* and from there, it is used by both people with and without disabilities as a way of saying “no, but it isn’t that bad, really.” For lots of us, yes, it is exactly that bad, because the illness impairs the expression same creativity it supposedly gives us. I have the urge and can’t act on it for long periods of time, and it’s torture.

    Rather than derail further, I will simply say that I think it is incredibly important to acknowledge and discuss the flip side of the creativity issue, and my essay about it (part of a longer discussion/ongoing sort of series) is here:

    Swearing, because that’s how I write.

  3. that’s a very interesting point. i definitely agree that any positive aspects or abilities associated with mental disabilities do not in any way diminish the extent to which those same disabilities negatively impact or limit or impair someone. those aspects are very real and your point about the disorders impairing our abilities to use or express these positive characteristics is a very relevant one.

    i do think it speaks to the strength with which ableism and dismissal of mental health problems is ingrained in our cultural viewpoint that we are (reasonably) concerned that any new information about mental health, whether positive or negative, might be used against us in some way to further marginalize or dismiss people with mental health problems. it’s immensely helpful for me to think that my bipolar isn’t a biological mutation that should have been bred out long ago, but may actually convey advantages and abilities and skills – along with all the limitations and negatives it brings. however, the idea that these positive aspects of disability would create new ways to penalize people is, i think, a very real and legitimate concern. which is horrible, given the extent to which this research and similar findings could help people with mental disabilities better understand their own conditions.

  4. Thanks for your perspective on this research which, with your permission, I’d like to include on a Creative Intelligence Roundup which I do periodically on my blog. Your readers might also be interested in “You’re Not Mad, You’re Creative”, a series that tapped into some of the same issues from a related perspective. thanks for being there.

  5. As someone with depression, anxiety, and OCD, as well as a lot of creativity, I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I can totally see how they’re related just from my own experience, and so this is a confirmation of that. And I definitely think this kind of research is really important. On the other hand, does that mean I have to go through all the crap in order to have the creativity? I’m not sure how I feel about that. When I think about it more, though, it might help me appreciate the mental illness more, rather than hate it. Something to ponder, for me.
    (And I’m definitely still on the 101 level here so corrections, perspective etc. are welcome.)

  6. we may need to address this – bc it seems people really don’t like the idea of disability being inherently positive in any way. i think this is because our ableist culture has constructed disability to where everything and anything denies our true struggles and suffering; we have to fight and fight and fight, for acknowledgement, begrudging cooperation… to even think of fighting for affirmation is, well, unthinkable. we have no space for it.

    i think that is why ppl react so strongly anytime anyone suggests disability is anything other than All Suffering All The Time. we live in a culture where we are pelted from every side with denial and dismissal and derisiveness. we fight so hard just to make people recognize that harm is being caused (much less that they cause it). it’s too dangerous to think about positivity in this experience. too dangerous, too risky…

  7. phoquess – at this stage, the research findings are so vague that i don’t think they’ve found any definite conclusions. right now, this study found only that a particular genotype is associated both with psychosis and with creativity. this could mean that the genotype causes both things, or that people in whom the genotype produces psychosis develop enhanced creativity as a reaction to the psychosis, or that the genotype causes creativity and that triggers psychosis in some people who also have this other genotype, etc. as an analogy, imagine a study that found that the genotype related to diabetes is also related to ability to fly. it could be that people who can fly are exposed to something in the upper reaches of space that causes diabetes. it could be that once people develop diabetes, they all take a medication that has a side effect of enabling flight. at this point, we don’t know enough about the relationship between the mental health conditions and the creativity to have any real idea whether one is required to have the other, or if there’s a way to minimize one without affecting the other.

    even if scientists were to conclude that the genotype cause both the mental health disorders and the creativity, i don’t think that automatically means that psychiatry couldn’t control or manage the psychosis without limiting the creativity, allowing people to have the benefits without the drawbacks. in short – we really don’t know much of anything right now, but i believe this step towards considering mental disabilities as something other than 100% inherently bad is an important one in learning more about these conditions, how they effect people, and how those people can be helped.

  8. p.s.

    disability has positives and negatives.

    normality has positives and negatives.

    because normality is an unmarked condition, because it is the default, we see only what is good about it. so when we compare disability against it – of course it’s worse, because look, there are negatives!

    but we are blocked off from the negatives that normality also has. because every condition has ups and downs, advantages and disadvantages. but we don’t recognize normality as a “condition.” it just is.

    like whitness – we don’t recognize that white people have a race, a racial culture, and so forth. black people have black culture, latin@s have latin@ culture, but white doesn’t have culture, it’s just “plain” and “boring” and “nothing”… the same thing here with ability status. we forget that “normal” ability is also a condition unto itself. that there is no default; that we are all blobs on a plain background. normal isn’t the plain background: it’s one of the blobs! just one that the powerful have decided to privilege.

  9. I know it has been discussed in the comments to a post that Amandaw made on Feministe:

    And I know I discussed it myself:

    And in the comments there, Amadaw says this, which is great:

    “People seem to be listening to me say: “Disability does not have to be negative” and hearing: “Disability must be positive.”
    There is a distinction between those two statements, and I ask that people really think about that.”

    And I think that is what is at issue. I totally agree. Disability is not an inherently negative thing, even if some individuals experience it as being negative. I don’t want to give the impression that I think otherwise! I’m just saying that for some of us, while we objectively know that disability is not inherently negative and while we champion the idea of disability being a complex condition with positive and negative aspects, our subjective, personal experience of it is really awful, and sometimes even something that we wish we could change — and I see nothing wrong with that even as I am sorry anyone – me included – would feel that way and wish that they didn’t . . . whether that meant them getting their wish or meant them being happy as they are.

    Nobody, not AbbyJean, not Amandaw, is saying that all disability is positive. I jumped the gun because my nerves have been really, REALLY raw about this for a while now; it really was bothering me last night, and it is still really bothering me today. I am sorry, FWIW. I just . . . I don’t want to feel unwelcome here, too, because I don’t think that the benefits of my bipolar disorder buy off the negatives, and that’s not my fault for not looking at it right. I guess that was fear talking. I am really liking this blog and I don’t want to have to not comment here because there’s no room.

    To go back on track, I appreciate what you, Amandaw, are saying about normaility having its goods and bads and ups and downs. That is true, and cultivating an understanding of that is important whether you are disabled or not because without it we have no sort of perspective and without perspective we cannot understand one another past a certain point.

    If we come to understand “normality” as being just another condition with its good and bad points, then there is a reduced tendency to view other conditions as all bad. When you define something as “all good,” you label other things “not as good” or maybe even “bad.” If normality wasn’t seen as “all good” all the time, but was seen as “sometimes good, sometimes bad,” there might be room for disability to be “sometimes good, sometimes bad.”

    Life is way complex, and it’s aggravating, unfair, and completely not reflective of reality that particular privileged states have the cultural monopoly on “a good thing to be.”

    One of the things that I find most aggravating about being mentally ill is the way that common perceptions of it would rob it of its complexity. It’s not a monolithic, uniform thing. It’s individual, unique to everyone who exoeriences it, scintillant and tragic in turns, terrifying and sometimes exhiliarating, sometimes not that bad and sometimes not worth it at all and yet still not changeable, frustrating and humbling and yet encouraging of a kind of sharp-fanged pride. Without the complexity, it loses its humanity, and to deny the complexity of it, good or bad, is to deny the humanity of everyone who experiences it.

    My individual experience of it has been more negative than positive, but I don’t for a minute think that’s what it’s like for everyone.

  10. Personally, I’m conflicted—not entirely because it’s about a positive aspect of disability, but because it aligns with positive stereotypes of disability. The whole mad artistic genius thing. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there it is.

    Very thought-provoking, to say the least…thanks for finding this!

  11. oh, naamah, i very much hope you feel welcome here! i think this is really interesting stuff to dig into and i’m really enjoying this conversation. fwiw, my experience of my disability has been vastly more negative than positive, by a factor of … who knows. the negatives massively outweigh the positives and sometimes i feel like i’m trying to talk myself into finding something even vaguely positive about it because how could anything this bad have even a glimmer of good in it. but, at the end of the day, i have this disability and am going to have it forever, and i have to accept it as part of me. for me – and i mean just for me, i have no idea how this feels to other people, including you – it helps to feel like that part of me is not universally bad. overwhelmingly so, maybe, but not entirely. and that if i have to have this bad thing be a part of me, it might as well give me one tiny good thing along with the engulfing pile of pain.

    i do hope you stick around and keep commenting!

  12. I researched Neuregulin-1 and its possible correlation to trichotillomania and OCD this summer. As of now the findings are unpublished, but we obtained negative results in our genome screenings.

  13. Tlonista:

    “Personally, I’m conflicted—not entirely because it’s about a positive aspect of disability, but because it aligns with positive stereotypes of disability. The whole mad artistic genius thing. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there it is.”

    Well I could have just shut up and waited for you to say this! *lol* Thank you. I’m not particularly concise. Positive stereotypes really annoy me. Okay, not as much as negative ones, but it’s not the negative ones I have pushed in my face by “friends” who “mean well.” Which makes it really hard to feel like there is a safe emotional place with that person, you know? It’s like, hey, I don’t want to have to educate you until I can actually lean on you as a friend. I don’t always have the energy to do that. *sigh*

    Abby Jean:

    “but, at the end of the day, i have this disability and am going to have it forever, and i have to accept it as part of me. for me”

    YES. That. And that is the hardest thing in the world for me.

    My mother was bipolar, and that fucked the family up in major ways because she never knew that was her problem, was never treated, and it tormented and caged her her entire life. I was diagnosed shortly after her death, and it grieves me to this day that if she had lived even a year longer, we would have KNOWN, I could have given her an answer — and despite that she was really difficult to deal with, I do believe in my deepest heart that she would have listened to me and believed me about that.

    Maybe she would not have died as pained and bitter and self-hating as she was, because I really think that, at the root of a lot of her hate was the idea that she was something horrible, that there was something really, really fucked up about her in a moral sense, and that the things she did because of her illness were unforgivable, because she didn’t understand they were not something she could help. She died thinking that if she tried hard enough to change, she would stop having these problems. It was really sad.

    I don’t blame myself for not knowing, I’ve forgiven myself for that, but I feel grief not just for her death, which was sucky in every way, but for the life that was stolen from her by something she never understood. At least my monster has a name, a number in the awful bestiary of mental disorders.

    So the bare fact that I KNOW I am bipolar is a huge advantage, and I think that’s been the biggest positive so far: getting a name for this. Not being alone. Knowing what I am saves me from trying to be what I thought I should have been. I am no longer trying to be a normal person. I’m trying to be myself. That’s better by an order of magnitude, but it’s not easy for all that it’s actually achievable (whereas being normal is SO not happening).

    It’s the acceptance that comes hard, when there is very little access to the positive parts of it and so much time spent trying not to get sucked under.

    I love my inner beast, even though she makes my life hell sometimes. I can’t NOT love her. She’s part of me. But she’s like a wolf: it does so little good to pretend she’s not deadly, or to pretend that her kisses pay for her furies, and it makes me angry and scared when people fail to respect how terrible she is and instead just see the waggy tail and bounding excitement of type II hypomania and think that she is even a little tame. She’s awful but I do love her. I suppose that affection for that part of myself, while it isn’t acceptance of the pain that it causes me, is a really good place to start.

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