Are Genius and Madness Related?
Contemporary Answers to an Ancient Question
By Dean Keith Simonton, Ph.D. | 31 de mayo de 2005
Ever since antiquity, thinkers have associated creativity with psychopathology--the classic idea of the "mad genius." By looking at historiometric, psychiatric and psychometric research one can conclude that exceptional creativity is often linked with certain symptomsof psychopathology. Nevertheless, this relationship is not equivalent to the claim that creative individuals necessarily suffer from psychopathology.
The idea that creativity and psychopathology are somehow linked goes way back to antiquity--to the time of Aristotle. Centuries later, this belief was developed and expanded by various psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychologists. For instance,Cesare Lombroso, M.D., argued toward the end of the 19th century that genius and madness were closely connected manifestations of an underlying degenerative neurological disorder. To be sure, this idea has not gone without challenge. On the contrary, humanistic psychologists were inclined to associate creativity with mental health. Nevertheless, the prevailing view appears to be thatpsychopathology and creativity are positively associated.
But what is the scientific evidence supporting this hypothesized association? And what does this evidence suggest is the basis for the relationship?
Scientific data addressing this issue come from three main sources: historiometric, psychiatric and psychometric. Although each source has distinct methodological problems, the findingsall converge on the same general conclusions.
Historiometric research. In this approach, historical data are subjected to objective and quantitative analyses. In particular, the biographies of eminent creators are systematically analyzed to discern the presence of symptoms associated with various psychopathological syndromes. Such historiometric inquiries lead to four conclusions.
First, therate and intensity of psychopathological symptoms appear to be higher among eminent creators than in the general population (Ellis, 1926; Raskin, 1936). Although the differential depends on the specific definition used, a reasonable estimate is that highly creative individuals are about twice as likely to experience some mental disorder as otherwise comparable noncreative individuals (Ludwig, 1995).Depression seems to be the most common symptom, along with the correlates of alcoholism and suicide (Goertzel et al., 1978; Ludwig, 1990; Post, 1996).
Second, on average, the more eminent the creator, the higher is the expected rate and intensity of the psychopathological symptoms (Ludwig, 1995).
Third, the rate and intensity of symptoms varies according to the specific domain of creativity(Ludwig, 1992; Post, 1994). For example, psychopathology is higher among artistic creators than among scientific creators (Post, 1994; Raskin, 1936). Thus, according to one study, 87% of famous poets experienced psychopathology whereas only 28% of the eminent scientists did so, a figure close to the population baseline (Ludwig, 1995).
Fourth, those family lines that produce the most eminentcreators also tend to be characterized by a higher rate and intensity of psychopathological symptoms (Jamison, 1993; Juda, 1949; Karlsson, 1970).
Hence, even though there is some evidence that the lifestyle of creative activity can have adverse consequences for mental health (Schaller, 1997), it remains the case that there may be a common genetic component to both creativity and psychopathology (Ludwig,1995).
Psychiatric research. This type of evidence depends on the incidence of clinical diagnosis and therapeutic treatment in samples of contemporary creators. Hence, the research does not require retrospective analysis as in historiometric research, and the assessment of psychopathology reflects modern standards. In any case, psychiatric studies also seem to find higher rate and intensity of...
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