By Rick McVicar
“Madness is a nobler thing than sober sense… Madness comes from God, whereas sober sense is merely human.”
These words of Socrates, as written by Plato in the Phaedrus, are quoted in a Psychology Today article, April 27, 2020. “Mad Genius: Schizophrenia and Creativity,” by Neel Burton, describes how creativity and mental illness have been linked in literature since ancient times.
The article then goes on to describe a study on schizophrenia and creativity conducted by Vanderbilt University’s Park Lab, directed by Dr. Sohee Park. Dr. Park describes the study in an email. The study was conducted by Bradley Folley and Dr. Park.
Dr. Park writes, “We and many researchers have found that schizophrenia-spectrum is associated with ‘divergent thinking,’ which is related to one’s ability to connect concepts or ideas that may seem disparate at first. Such remote associations are enhanced or facilitated in individuals with schizophrenia, but even more so in non-diagnosed people who score high on schizotypy.
"This is what Brad (Folley) was working on. He looked at how people generate new ideas. He gave people sets of objects and asked how they would use them ('alternate uses task’).
“We then looked at the brain activity during the alternate uses task and found that frontal lobe activity in ‘schizotypal’ individuals were different from that you see in (healthy) control participants.”
Dr. Park summarizes the results of creativity studies by saying that people who have symptoms of schizophrenia have two enhancemenots: divergent thinking and mental imagery. The study on imagery was described in a previous blog posting.
The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines divergent thinking as solving a problem in a way that “deviates from commonly used strategies.”
An article describing Folley’s and Dr. Park’s study was published in Schizophrenia Research, 2005. Objects used in their study included kitchen utensils and woodworking tools.
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