Does Creativity Share a Genetic Root With Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder?

Genes linked to creativity could increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to new research carried out by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London.

Previous studies have identified a link between creativity and psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, but it has remained unclear whether this association is due to common genes. Published today in Nature Neuroscience, this new study lends support to the direct influence on creativity of genes found in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Although creativity is difficult to define for scientific purposes, researchers consider a creative person to be someone who takes novel approaches requiring cognitive processes that are different from prevailing modes of thought or expression. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are disorders of thoughts and emotions, which means that those affected show alterations in cognitive and emotional processing.

It has long been suggested that creativity and psychosis show certain similarities, with notable examples of artists such as Vincent Van Gogh who themselves suffered from psychiatric illnesses. Previous studies have shown that psychiatric disorders, particularly bipolar disorder, tend to be found in the same families where creative professions are common. However, until now it had not been possible to pinpoint whether this was simply due to shared environmental factors or socioeconomic status.

Genetic risk scores were examined in a sample of 86,292 individuals from the general population of Iceland, in collaboration with researchers from deCODE Genetics, who provided the data. Creative individuals were defined as those belonging to the national artistic societies of actors, dancers, musicians, visual artists and writers.

Researchers found that genetic risk scores for both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were significantly higher in those defined as creative individuals, with scores approximately halfway between the general population and those with the disorders themselves.

Image shows a DNA strand.

Researchers found that genetic risk scores for both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were significantly higher in those defined as creative individuals, with scores approximately halfway between the general population and those with the disorders themselves. Image is for illustrative purposes only.

These findings lend support to the direct influence of genetic factors on creativity, as opposed to the effect of sharing an environment with individuals who have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Robert Power, first author from the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre at the IoPPN, said: ‘For most psychiatric disorders little is known about the underlying biological pathways that lead to illness. An idea that has gained credibility is that these disorders reflect extremes of the normal spectrum of human behaviour, rather than a distinct psychiatric illness. By knowing which healthy behaviours, such as creativity, share their biology with psychiatric illnesses we gain a better understanding of the thought processes that lead a person to become ill and how the brain might be going wrong.’

‘Our findings suggest that creative people may have a genetic predisposition towards thinking differently which, when combined with other harmful biological or environmental factors, could lead to mental illness.’

About this neuropsychology research

Funding: This research was primarily funded by deCODE Genetics and the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013).

Source: Jack Stonebridge – King’s College London
Image Credit: The image is in the public domain
Original Research: Abstract for “Polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder predict creativity” by Robert A Power, Stacy Steinberg, Gyda Bjornsdottir, Cornelius A Rietveld, Abdel Abdellaoui, Michel M Nivard, Magnus Johannesson, Tessel E Galesloot, Jouke J Hottenga, Gonneke Willemsen, David Cesarini, Daniel J Benjamin, Patrik K E Magnusson, Fredrik Ullén, Henning Tiemeier, Albert Hofman, Frank J A van Rooij, G Bragi Walters, Engilbert Sigurdsson, Thorgeir E Thorgeirsson, Andres Ingason, Agnar Helgason, Augustine Kong, Lambertus A Kiemeney, Philipp Koellinger, Dorret I Boomsma, Daniel Gudbjartsson, Hreinn Stefansson and Kari Stefansson in Nature Neuroscience. Published online June 8 2015 doi:10.1038/nn.4040


Abstract

Polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder predict creativity

We tested whether polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder would predict creativity. Higher scores were associated with artistic society membership or creative profession in both Icelandic (P = 5.2 × 10−6 and 3.8 × 10−6 for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder scores, respectively) and replication cohorts (P = 0.0021 and 0.00086). This could not be accounted for by increased relatedness between creative individuals and those with psychoses, indicating that creativity and psychosis share genetic roots.

“Polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder predict creativity” by Robert A Power, Stacy Steinberg, Gyda Bjornsdottir, Cornelius A Rietveld, Abdel Abdellaoui, Michel M Nivard, Magnus Johannesson, Tessel E Galesloot, Jouke J Hottenga, Gonneke Willemsen, David Cesarini, Daniel J Benjamin, Patrik K E Magnusson, Fredrik Ullén, Henning Tiemeier, Albert Hofman, Frank J A van Rooij, G Bragi Walters, Engilbert Sigurdsson, Thorgeir E Thorgeirsson, Andres Ingason, Agnar Helgason, Augustine Kong, Lambertus A Kiemeney, Philipp Koellinger, Dorret I Boomsma, Daniel Gudbjartsson, Hreinn Stefansson and Kari Stefansson in Nature Neuroscience. Published online June 8 2015 doi:10.1038/nn.4040

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