For centuries, the link between artistic creativity and mental illness has been proffered by psychologists and intellectuals. But a new study suggests the association is more than just a romantic notion.
Researchers at Yale University and Lancaster University in the U.K. recently showed that a propensity for "inspiration" predicted a greater risk of bipolar disorder in survey participants.
Artists, musicians, poets and writers have long credited experiences of mania and depression with their moments creative inspiration. But those same experiences are also signs of bipolar disorder and other mental problems.
"It appears that the types of inspiration most related to bipolar vulnerability are those which are self-generated and linked with strong drive for success," explained Professor Steven Jones, co-director of Lancaster University’s Spectrum Center, a research facility dedicated to mental health studies.
"Understanding more about inspiration is important because it is a key aspect of creativity which is highly associated with mental health problems, in particular bipolar disorder," Jones added.
Jones worked with Dr. Alyson Dodd, of Lancaster University, and Dr. June Gruber, of Yale, to complete the study on bipolar disorder and inspiration -- the details of which are published in the latest issue of PLOS One.
The researchers found the correlation by surveying 835 undergraduate students. Participants were each given two surveys -- one a trusted and much-used questionnaire aimed at gauging bipolar risk, the other a survey designed to ascertain the student's feelings towards creative inspiration.
Those who placed a greater emphasis on incidents of personal inspiration were more likely to score higher on the 48-question bipolar survey, known as the Hypomanic Personality Scale.
"People with bipolar disorder highly value creativity as a positive aspect of their condition," said Jones. "This is relevant to clinicians, as people with bipolar disorder may be unwilling to engage with treatments and therapies which compromise their creativity."