Understanding The Relationship between Creativity and Schizophrenia

by Aseess Chadha 
April 18, 2022
Understanding The Relationship between Creativity and Schizophrenia

The complexities of our grey matter often express themselves across different traits and abilities. Physiological, neurological, and social norms categorise these into traits, some psychopathological, some gifted, and some creative. This blog explores the intersection of creativity with the psychopathological disorder Schizophrenia and how the two often co-exist and interact.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Schizophrenia is a psychological disorder with symptoms including (among others) hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech and thought, and lack of motivation. Its causes have been traced to genetic and environmental factors with life stressors becoming the triggering event for symptoms to surface. Extensive research has been conducted on Schizophrenia presenting pharmacotherapy and psychological therapy as approaches to manage the symptoms. It can help people live a productive and fulfilling life. However, the prognosis depends on various factors including progression of disease, stressors, social support, accessibility to care etc.

Interestingly, researchers have been interested in studying the link between psychopathological traits and creativity. Evidence highlights their co-existing nature. Andreason (1987) conducted a pioneering study in this regard where creative writers and their families were studied, revealing a higher prevalence of mental illness in them as compared to their matched controls. The findings were consistent with Gardener’s (1993) view of asynchronicity and creativity. It discussed how creative efforts are more likely to arise out of tension and asynchrony among principal factors that underlie human behaviour.

Evidently for individuals with Schizophrenia, a genetic association between schizophrenia and creativity has also been discussed in literature. The dominant schizophrenia gene may, when in a heterozygous state, bring on cerebral stimulation, with improved performance in the areas of giftedness and creativity (Karlsson, 1970). Richards (2001) also put forth this possibility of the familial schizophrenic risk carrying “creative advantages.”

Guilford’s theory of creativity described it as the ability to recognize problems, divergent thinking, ability to generate multiple ideas, create new patterns, transformation of ideas, and use of objects in novel ways. He proposed that the thinking process involves two major kinds of thinking- convergent and divergent. Convergent thinking was understood as the generation of logical conclusions, often with the narrowing down approach. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, was described as the ability to generate multiple solutions, ideas and engagement in a broad search of alternatives (Guilford, 1959; Puccio et al., 2012). Researchers over time also agreed to define creativity on the basis of novelty and usefulness (Nickerson, 1999; Runco & Jaeger, 2012).

Specific to Schizophrenia, it has been hypothesized that production of new, original ideas or solutions may be easier for individuals with schizophrenia due to their pertinent psychosis, allowing them unusual experiences and versatile thinking (Chapman & Chapman, 1973). Their inability to be in touch with reality allows them to imagine freely and fantasize, outside the boundaries of the general norm (Acar et al., 2018.)

Carson (2011) proposed the Shared Vulnerability Model explaining how individuals displaying psychopathological traits and high on creativity share some factors like cognitive disinhibition, attention to novelty, and neural hyperconnectivity. Further research in this domain, specifically for individuals with schizophrenia suggest shared characteristics like over-inclusive thinking, ego regression, and reduced latent inhibition.

However, it is imperative to note that these theories about the relationship between schizophrenia and creativity can be more complex than it appears. Schizophrenia is also associated with lower IQ, lower memory, and lower cognitive flexibility. Memory and cognitive flexibility aid and stimulate creativity (Nijstad et al., 2010; Vandervert et al., 2007). It could be thus posited that higher creativity with schizophrenia can be a case for people with high abilities at best, and not be generalized.

Moreover, creativity can benefit from diversity in perspective, overinclusive thinking, imagination, and fantasy which are facilitated by delusions but only when they can be controlled. Therefore, psychosis or fantasy could stimulate creative thinking only to the point at which specific behavioural symptoms are under control (Acar et al.,2018).

Hence, while trying to understand the relationship between creativity and schizophrenia, one must be mindful of certain factors which could influence our perceptions and research. One of them could be the progression and severity of the disorder. As DSM-5 sees schizophrenia on a continuum, a difference could be observed in creativity levels as we move towards more intense symptoms and severe manifestations.

Another factor, as has been discussed above, is the level of abilities (cognitive, social, functional) which may determine the individual’s ability to be creative. One absolutely must not ignore individual differences in the realm of psychology and they must be acknowledged in this sphere as well.

Additionally, it is also important to keep in mind how creativity is measured and understood. The concept of creativity has been explored and defined by psychologists in varied ways. Therefore, how creativity is understood can outline how creativity is observed; bringing variations in how the relationship between schizophrenia and creativity is seen.

Understanding the link between creativity and schizophrenia is definitely no walk in the park. Years of research has been surfacing contradicting evidence pertaining to how there could be high creativity or low creativity or just no difference at all. Therefore, it becomes extremely essential to understand the concepts and mechanisms underlying these variables so as to enhance our knowledge about how they could be co-existing. Or Perhaps Not?


Aseess Chadha

Clinical & Research Intern, PsychLine.in


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Guilford, J.P., 1959. Traits of Creativity. In: Anderson, H.H. (Ed.), Creativity and Its Cultivation. Harper and Row, New York, pp. 171–173.

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Vandervert, L.R., Schimpf, P.H., Liu, H., 2007. How working memory and the cerebellum collaborate to produce creativity and innovation. Creat. Res. J. 19 (1), 1–18

What Is Schizophrenia? American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/schizophrenia/what-is-schizophrenia