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Creativity 'has similarities to mental illness'

19th May 2010

The tortured artist is a cultural archetype, with writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson and Sylvia Plath often cited as real life examples - but a new study claims to have discovered a link between creativity and mental health problems.

Research carried out by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that the dopamine systems of healthy, highly creative individuals have marked similarities to those of people suffering from schizophrenia.

Dr Fredrik Ullen, from the institute's department of women's and children's health, used divergent psychological tests, which ask people to find many different solutions to a problem, to establish the creativity of individuals.

'The study shows that highly creative people who did well on the divergent tests had a lower density of D2 receptors in the thalamus than less creative people,' Dr Ullen explained, adding that this trait is also seen in people with schizophrenia.

He added that fewer D2 receptors in this area allow creative people to make unusual connections between subjects which others cannot, but claimed the lack of receptors also leads to the 'bizarre associations' found in those suffering from mental health issues.

Previous research by emeritus professor of abnormal psychology at Oxford University Gordon Claridge showed that conditions such as schizophrenia and manic depression have elements in common with creativity.

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