Madness and Creativity, I reported on how “latent inhibition” appears tied in to both psychosis and creativity. The piece drew heavily from a post on Psychiatry Today’s Beautiful Minds blog by Scott Barry Kaufman. As I reported:
What we seem to be looking at is that fine edge where productive novel thinking ventures close to the precipice of pathologically delusional thinking.
In his piece, Dr Kaufman talked about "latent inhibition" (LI), the brain's ability to unconsciously filter out information. High latent inhibition is conducive to rational thought. Low latent inhibition is associated with psychosis and schizophrenia.
But Dr Kaufman noted:
Recently researchers have wondered whether a reduced latent inhibition can actually be beneficial for creativity. After all, decreased LI may make an individual more likely to see connections that others may not notice.
In an ideal situation, a rational brain (the seat of executive function) processing novel information can produce astonishing insights that can pass for genius, creativity, or intuition. Dr Kaufman cited both his own research and the research of others in support of the proposition that those with a higher faith in their own intuition tested “high” for “low” LI.
People with schizophrenia, unfortunately, do not fare well with executive function. They get overwhelmed. Their low LI translates into psychosis. Sylvia Nasar, in her book “A Beautiful Mind,” recounts a colleague asking John Nash in 1959 how he could believe that extraterrestrials were sending him messages.
"Because," Nash replied, "the ideas that I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously."
In two blog pieces (on Nash and on Darwin) I speculated that Dr Nash may have been dealing with a form of “schizophrenia lite” (either under-the-radar “prodromal” symptoms or “schizotypy”) that allowed him to produce brilliant insights before the full force of the illness descended and robbed him of a quarter century of his life. What originally got me started on this line of thinking was a lecture I heard by Nancy Andreasen, who noted, among other things, that Einstein had a son who had schizophrenia and that he himself was an eccentric with “schizotypal” tendencies.
In his latest piece, Dr Kaufman dials in the “schizophrenia lite” connection. Schizotypy, he says, “is a watered-down version of schizophrenia” with a constellation of personality traits “that are evident in some degree in everyone.” He cites a recent study by Nelson and Rawlings in Schizophrenia Bulletin that suggests schizotypy “may be positively associated with the experience of creative flow.”
Dr Kaufman defines “flow as “the mental state of being completely present and fully immersed in a task.”
In addition: “When in flow, the creator and the universe become one, outside distractions recede from consciousness, and one's mind is fully open and attuned to the act of creating.”
As Susan Perry in “Writing in Flow” explains: “Looseness and the ability to cross mental boundaries are aspects of both schizophrenic thinking and creative thinking."
Dr Kaufman notes that this is an exciting time for research on the linkages between mental illness and creativity. The Nelson and Rawlings' study, he says, suggests that positive schizotypy, latent inhibition, and flow are intimately related, though a lot more research needs to be done.
Bring it on ...