There may be an overlap between the genetic components of creativity and those of some psychiatric disorders, according to a new study that came to my attention courtesy of the Passive Guy.
In the study, researchers looked at genetic material from more than 86,000 people in Iceland and identified genetic variants that were linked with an increased risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The investigators then looked for these variants in a group of more than 1,000 people who were members of national societies of artists, including visual artists, writers, actors, dancers and musicians in Iceland.
The study revealed that the people in these artistic societies were 17 percent more likely to carry those variants linked with the mental health conditions than were people in the general population, who were not members of these societies.
“The results of this study should not have come as a surprise, because to be creative, you have to think differently from the crowd,” study author Kari Stefansson said. “And we had previously shown that carriers of genetic factors that predispose to schizophrenia do so.”
In a previous study, researchers found that creative professionals were at an increased risk of having bipolar disorder. People who were writers in particular, were more likely to be diagnosed with psychiatric disorders in general.
Previous research has also shown that family members of people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are over-represented in creative professions.
It is not clear whether the genetic link found in the study may apply to people who feel they are creative, or only to those who actually produce high-quality creative work.
The Flip Side: Bibliotherapy
Ironically enough, writers can help other regain their psychological balance. As The New Yorker explains, reading can make you happier. What is bibliotherapy, you ask?
After answering an initial questionnaire about your reading habits, your bibliotherapist, including reading habits, the question “What is preoccupying you at the moment?,” family’s history and fears, the therapist will suggest books you should read, tailored to your individual needs. The aim is to help you deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence.
Bibliotherapy, turns out, is a very broad term for the ancient practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect. The first use of the term is usually dated to a jaunty 1916 article in The Atlantic Monthly, “A Literary Clinic.” In it, the author describes stumbling upon a “bibliopathic institute” run by an acquaintance, Bagster, in the basement of his church, from where he dispenses reading recommendations with healing value.
“Bibliotherapy is…a new science,” Bagster explains. “A book may be a stimulant or a sedative or an irritant or a soporific. The point is that it must do something to you, and you ought to know what it is. A book may be of the nature of a soothing syrup or it may be of the nature of a mustard plaster.”
To a middle-aged client with “opinions partially ossified,” Bagster gives the following prescription: “You must read more novels. Not pleasant stories that make you forget yourself. They must be searching, drastic, stinging, relentless novels.” (George Bernard Shaw is at the top of the list.)
Bagster is finally called away to deal with a patient who has “taken an overdose of war literature,” leaving the author to think about the books that “put new life into us and then set the life pulse strong but slow.”
For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain.
Since the discovery, in the mid-nineties, of “mirror neurons”—neurons that fire in our brains both when we perform an action ourselves and when we see an action performed by someone else—the neuroscience of empathy has become clearer.
When people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves. We draw on the same brain networks when we’re reading stories and when we’re trying to guess at another person’s feelings.
Find out more by reading the original post on The New Yorker!