Category Archives: creativity

Creativity-psychosis linkage via reduced white matter /myelination
I have been following, and am passionate about, the positive psychology movement for quite some time, but was surprised to discover that there was something called positive neuroscience also in place. I recently came across this new scientist article about the research paper of Rex Jung et al and was pleased to discover that Jung was working on the frontier of applying latest in neuroscience research to Positive brain states and substrates like that involved in creativity.

The article is in PLOSOne, an open access journal and is lucidly written , so you should go and read it now. I’ll anyway like to summarize their study results. First a bit of background about creativity psychopathology linkage.

Some research reports positive correlations between various definitions of creativity and a diagnosis of psychopathology [1], [2], [3], [4]. Other studies report that psychopathology is rarely, if ever, associated with creative insight, capacity, or productivity [5]. When artists are studied more carefully, certain personality characteristics appear to reside upon a continuum of both normal behavior and psychopathology. For example, creative expression in the visual arts and poetry has been linked with the overlapping personality traits of schizotypy and Openness to Experience (Openness), and particularly to self-reports of “unusual experiences” and “unconventional nonconformity”, but not the “introvertive anhedonia” characteristic of schizophrenia [6].

This is inline with what we have been covering at mouse trap regarding association of creativity with the psychotic spectrum especially the creativity that is artistic or revolutionary in nature rather than scientific and methodical in nature. This is how the authors distinguish between types of creativity inline with my views that one type of creativity is autistic (cognitive) in nature while the other is psychotic (emotional) and these are on a continuum.

First, there does not exist one “creativity”; rather, this construct is hypothesized to reside upon a continuum between cognitive (i.e., scientific) and emotional (i.e., artistic) behavioral domains [41], [42]. Thus, when comparing scientists and artists directly, researchers have found lower lifetime rates of psychopathology for: 1) scientists compared to artists, 2) natural scientists compared to social scientists, 3) nonfiction writers compared to fiction writers and poets, and 4) formal artists compared to “expressive” artists [3], [4], [43]. These findings have led researchers to hypothesize a hierarchical structure of creativity across disciplines [42], which echoes the notions of “paradigmatic” (i.e., a fundamental model of events) versus “revolutionary” (i.e., rejection of doctrines) approaches as applied to the sciences [44]. The benefits of working within the lines of a given field appear to be lower levels of psychopathology; alternately, individuals with lower levels of psychopathology may be attracted to such endeavors. Similarly, there is increasing evidence that the cost of “revolutionary” approaches to creative endeavors, whether it is in the arts or sciences, may be associated with increased levels of psychopathology although, again, causative links are weak at best.

So that fits in with broader creativity/ psychopathology linkage, but to get back to the current study the authors had already established earlier that performance on Divergent Thinking (DT) (a measure of creativity) “exhibited significant inverse relationships with both cortical thickness in frontal lobe regions and metabolite concentration of N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA) in the anterior cingulate cortex in normal young subjects “. Thus, some theoretical relationship between creativity and underlying brain circuitry in the frontal reagion was available a priori. Also, research by other researchers has already established that ” Both schizophrenic and bipolar patients have been shown to have reduced fractional anisotropy (FA) in the anterior thalamic radiation [12], [13] and uncinate fasciculus [14] within frontal brain regions. Similarly, reduced FA was observed within the uncinate fasciculus of a cohort with schizotypal personality disorder, providing strong support for the hypothesis that similar neural phenotypes may not result in full-blown clinical symptoms [15]. Finally, in normal subjects, the Neuroregulin-1 (NRG1) single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP’s) SNP8NRG243177 and SNP8NRG221533 were found to predict lower FA in the left anterior thalamic radiation [16]. As NRG1 has been found to predict higher risk of schizophrenia [17], [18] and bipolar disorder [19], and is linked with axonal myelination and migration [20], these authors hypothesize a mechanistic link between NRG1 within the anterior thalamic radiation and risk for psychotic disorders [16].”

Thus, from the above it is easy to see that there should be a inverse relationship between Fractional Anisotropy (a construct related to myelination of axons) in the frontal regions and creativity if one assumes that creativity and psychopathology are related and are on one end of a continuum. And this inverse relationship between creativity and FA is exactly what they found:

Our results suggest a convergence between a cognitive measure of divergent thinking, a personality measure of Openness, and a white matter integrity measure within the inferior frontal lobes. We found that normal young subjects with lower levels of FA within predominantly left inferior frontal white matter (i.e., regions overlapping the uncinate fasciculus and anterior thalamic radiation) scored higher on the CCI; similarly subjects with lower levels of FA within the right frontal white matter (i.e., regions overlapping the uncinate fasciculus and anterior thalamic radiation) scored higher on self-reported measures of Openness. These two regions of white matter overlap with those reported by other researchers who found lower FA in both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder [13], [14], [30].

They could also nail the reduced FA to reduced myelination as radial diffusion was affected more than axial diffusion. As reduced myelination has been shown as a diatheisis for psychosis, this fits in with previous research linking risk factors common to psychosis and creativity.

Whereas more neural resources are often associated with higher intellectual capacity in a parieto-frontal network of brain regions [39], studies in DT appear to suggest that less is often better in a different network of brain regions, particularly fronto-cingulate-subcortical networks linked via white matter loops [40].

One can speculate that frontal region, more concerned with executive control , when with reduced activity or functional connectivity , may not inhibit the other brain regions that much, and may thus lead to flowering of inherent creativity and cross-talk amongst different brain regions. On the other hand too much white matter/ gray matter in this region may lead to too much control and leave little room for flexibility and creativity.

However, while lower FA is commonly seen in diseases where both cognition and white matter integrity are impaired (e.g., Traumatic Brain Injury, Schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease) [45], [46], [47], evidence is accumulating that higher FA in particular brain regions may also be associated with clinical disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder [48], obsessive-compulsive disorder [49], panic disorder [50], synaesthesia [51], and Williams syndrome [52].

It is interesting to note that enhanced FA is associated with clinical disorder of Williams syndrome, which is associated with Autism; on the other end of continuum, reduced FA in particular brain region is associated with psychosis proneness, thus providing another convergent linkage of autism and psychosis as opposites.

Jung, R., Grazioplene, R., Caprihan, A., Chavez, R., & Haier, R. (2010). White Matter Integrity, Creativity, and Psychopathology: Disentangling Constructs with Diffusion Tensor Imaging PLoS ONE, 5 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009818

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Low Latent Inhibition, high faith in intuition and psychosis/creativity

Well, the cluster goes together. Previous research has found that Low LI and psychosis (schizophrenia) and creativity are related; previous research has also found that psychotic /some types of creative people have more faith in intuition; and this research ties things by showing that Low LI and high faith in intuition are correlated.

The research under question is by Kaufman and in it he explores the dual-process theories of cognition- the popular slow high road of deliberate conscious reasoning and the fast low road of unconscious processing. I would rather have the high road consist of both cognitive and affective factors and similarly the unconscious low road consist of both cognitive and affective factors. Kaufman focuses on the unconscious low road and his factor analysis reveal three factors: Faith in intuition: a meta cognition about ones tendency to use intuition; Holistic intuition: the cognitive factor; and affective intuition: the affective factor. with this in mind let us see what Kaufman’s thesis is:

He first introduces the low road and the high road:

In recent years, dual-process theories of cognition have become increasingly popular in explaining cognitive, personality, and social processes (Evans & Frankish, 2009). Although individual differences in the controlled, deliberate, reflective processes that underlay System 2 are strongly related to psychometric intelligence (Spearman, 1904) and working memory (Conway, Jarrold, Kane, Miyake, & Towse, 2007), few research studies have investigated individual differences in the automatic, associative, nonconscious processes that underlay System 1. Creativity and intelligence researchers might benefit from taking into account dual-process theories of cognition in their models and research, especially when exploring individual differences in nonconscious cognitive processes.

Then he explain LI:

Here I present new data, using a measure of implicit processing called latent inhibition (LI; Lubow, Ingberg-Sachs, Zalstein-Orda, & Gewirtz, 1992). LI reflects the brain’s capacity to screen from current attentional focus stimuli previously tagged as irrelevant (Lubow, 1989). LI is often characterized as a preconscious gating mechanism that automatically inhibits stimuli that have been previously experienced as irrelevant from entering awareness, and those with increased LI show higher levels of this form of inhibition (Peterson, Smith, & Carson, 2002). Variation in LI has been documented across a variety of mammalian species and, at least in other animals, has a known biological basis (Lubow & Gerwirtz, 1995). LI is surely important in people’s everyday lives—if people had to consciously decide at all times what stimuli to ignore, they would quickly become overstimulated.
Indeed, prior research has documented an association between decreased LI and acute-phase schizophrenia (Baruch, Hemsley, & Gray, 1988a, 1988b; Lubow et al., 1992). It is known, however, that schizophrenia is also associated with low executive functioning (Barch, 2005). Recent research has suggested that in highfunctioning individuals (in this case, Harvard students) with high IQs, decreased LI is associated with increased creative achievement (Carson et al., 2003). Therefore, decreased LI may make an individual more likely to perceive and make connections that others do not see and, in combination with high executive functioning, may lead to the highest levels of creative achievement. Indeed, the link between low LI and creativity is part of Eysenck’s (1995) model of creative potential, and Martindale (1999) has argued that a major contributor to creative thought is cognitive disinhibition.

He then relates this to intuition and presents his thesis:

A concept related to LI is intuition. Jung’s (1923/1971, p. 538) original conception of intuition is “perception via the unconscious.” Two of the most widely used measures of individual differences in the tendency to rely on an intuitive information-processing style are Epstein’s Rational- Experiential Inventory (REI; Pacini & Epstein, 1999) and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Intuition/Sensation subscale (Myers, McCaulley, Quenk, & Hammer, 1998). Both of these measures have demonstrated correlations with openness to experience (Keller, Bohner, & Erb, 2000; McCrae, 1994; Pacini & Epstein, 1999), a construct that has in turn shown associations with a reduced LI (Peterson & Carson, 2000; Peterson et al., 2002), as well as with divergent thinking (McCrae, 1987) and creative achievement.

The main hypothesis was that intuitive cognitive style is associated with decreased latent inhibition.

He found support for the hypothesis from his data. It seemed people with low LI were high in faith in intuition factor. Here is what he discusses:

The results of the current study suggest that faith in intuition, as assessed by the REI and the MBTI Thinking/Feeling subscale, is associated with decreased LI. Furthermore, a factor consisting of abstract, conceptual, holistic thought is not related to LI. Consistent with Pretz and Totz (2007), exploratory factor analysis revealed a distinction between a factor consisting of REI Experiential and MBTI Thinking/Feeling and a factor consisting of MBTI Intuition/Sensation and REI Rational Favorability. This further supports Epstein’s (1994) theory that the experiential system is directly tied to affect. The finding that MBTI Intuition/Sensation and REI Rational Favorability loaded on the same factor supports the idea that the type of intuition that is being measured by these tasks is affect neutral and more related to abstract, conceptual, holistic thought than to the gut feelings that are part of the Faith in Intuition factor.

Here are the broader implications:

The current study adds to a growing literature on the potential benefits of a decreased LI for creative cognition. Hopefully, with further research on the biological basis of LI, as well as its associated behaviors, including interactions with IQ and working memory, we can develop a more nuanced understanding of creative cognition. There is already promising theoretical progress in this direction.

Peterson et al. (2002) and Peterson and Carson (2000) found a significant relationship between low LI and three personality measures relating to an approach-oriented response and sensation-seeking behavior: openness to experience, psychoticism, and extraversion. Peterson et al. found that a combined measure of openness and extraversion (which was referred to as plasticity) provided a more differentiated prediction of decreased LI.

Peterson et al. (2002) argued that individual differences in a tendency toward exploratory behavior and cognition may be related to the activity of the mesolimbic dopamine system and predispose an individual to perceive even preexposed stimuli as interesting and novel, resulting in low LI. Moreover, under stressful or novel conditions, the dopamine system in these individuals will become more activated and the individual will instigate exploratory behavior. Under such conditions, decreased LI could help the individual by allowing him or her more options for reconsideration and thereby more ways to resolve the incongruity. It could also be disadvantageous in that the stressed individual risks becoming overwhelmed with possibilities. Research has shown that the combination of high IQ and reduced LI predicts creative achievement (Carson et al., 2003). Therefore, the individual predisposed to schizophrenia may suffer from an influx of experiential sensations and possess insufficient executive functioning to cope with the influx, whereas the healthy individual low in LI and open to experience (particularly an openness and faith in his or her gut feelings) may be better able to use the information effectively while not becoming overwhelmed or stressed out by the incongruity of the situation. Clearly, further research will need to investigate these ideas, but an understanding of the biological basis of individual differences in different forms of implicit processing and their relationship to openness to experience and intuition will surely increase our understanding of how certain individuals attain the highest levels of creative accomplishment.

To me this is exciting, the triad of creative/psychotic cognitive style, intuition and Latent Inhibition seem to gel together. the only grip eI have is that the author could also have measured intuition directly by using some insight problems requiring ‘aha’ solutions; maybe that is a project for future!
Kaufman, S. (2009). Faith in intuition is associated with decreased latent inhibition in a sample of high-achieving adolescents. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 3 (1), 28-34 DOI: 10.1037/a0014822

‘Right brain thinking’ and ‘diffuse thinking’ linked as the ‘creative thinking’ style

In a recent article, Kounios, J., et al., The origins of insight in resting-state brain activity, Neuropsychologia (2007), it has been shown that creative thinking style , associated with an ‘AHA’ moment of problem-solving using insight, deploys more Right brain areas and also is characterized by a more diffused visual attention; as compared to an analytic style , which used search as a strategy and was characterized by more focussed visual attention.

As I had been linking to some articles on brain asymmetry , I found this article worth linking to. The paper basically uses self-report measures to ascertain whether an anagram ( scrambled words like XPELAME for EXAMPLE) was solved by creative insight or by analytic search. It then divided the subjects into two groups- those utilizing insight as a strategy most of the time and those utilizing search as a strategy most of the time. then they looked at the EEG activations, both prior to the assignment (when the subjects were not even aware of the purpose of the study) and while the people solved the anagrams. The first EEG measure that refers to the resting style of a person, showed clear differences between the two groups. It was found that the creatives or insight people had more diffused visual attention, while the analytic searchers had more center-increase/surround-decrease type of cortical activity whihc would be correlated with more focused attention, in both visual areas as well as semantical areas. The creatives on the other hand, had resting EEG that implicated more loose semantic associations at the periphery.

The second interesting result was regarding the overall activation of right hemisphere versus left hemispheres in the creative vs analytic groups. Here again, High Insight group showed more right Hemisphere activations across many regions of interest and on many bands (alpha, gamma etc) of EEG frequencies.

I had approached the paper with a critical bent of mind as soon as I read that they had used self-reports, but it seems that they could find some indirect evidence as to whether the self-report measure styles did correspond to the actual styles employed. They reason, and show, that if a problem is being solved by insight, then the solution would be available in a a one-or-nothing sort of consciousness of the solution; hence the creatives would do more errors of omission, where they would timeout when given a deadline to solve the problem; on the other hand the analytics would be solving the problem in a piece-meal fashion, with the solution being formed bit-by0-bit in their consciousness and are thus more likely to do acts of commissions, where when confronted with a deadline, they give a wrong response. this is exactly what they found, moreover there was no differences in response times, error rate or any other measures that could have explained things otherwise, and I find their argument convincing.

The present study demonstrates that goal-oriented, event related,cognitive processing is not completely determined by goals or task demands. Individual differences in resting state brain activity also influence such neural computations. Specifically, subjects’ preferred strategy for solving a series of anagrams (insight versus search), was influenced by characteristics of their prior resting state. This phenomenon is fundamentally different from the previous demonstration of a relationship between problem-solving strategy and transient preparatory activity immediately preceding the presentation of an anticipated problem .

The results were organized around two hypotheses. The first was based on previous research demonstrating that highly creative individuals exhibit diffuse attention allowing input of a greater range of environmental stimuli, in contrast to less creative individuals who tend to focus their attention more narrowly, thereby sampling a smaller range of environmental stimuli . It was therefore predicted that HI subjects would have less resting-state occipital alpha-band activity, reflecting less inhibition of the visual system, and that LI subjects have more occipital beta activity, consistent with heightened focused attention. These predictions were supported by the results.

The second hypothesis was that HI and LI subjects would exhibit different patterns of resting-state hemispheric asymmetry at electrodes over lateral association cortex. This hypothesis was based on prior findings that creative cognition recruits RH association areas involved in semantic information processing relatively more than does noncreative cognition . The results provided broad support for the hypothesis that during a resting state HI subjects would show generally greater RH activity and less LH activity relative to LI subjects, with the most prominent effects being greater activity for HI subjects at right dorsal–frontal (lowalpha band), right inferior–frontal (beta and gamma bands) and right parietal (gamma band) electrodes, and greater activity at left inferior–frontal and left anterior–temporal electrodes for LI subjects in the low-alpha band.

Importantly, the behavioral results demonstrated that the HI and LI groups used different cognitive strategies to solve the anagrams. Consistent with the notion that insight processing yields information about the correct response in a discrete, all-or-none, fashion, while noninsight processing yields partial response information before the processing of a problem has been completed , the present results showed that subjects who tended to solve problems with self-reported insight tended to make errors of omission, while subjects who tended to solve the problems with self-reported noninsight processing tended to make errors of commission.

As such, I am excited by this research which adds not only to our understanding of the ‘insight’ problem solving, but also adds to the knowledge base on brain asymmetry.

Schizophrenia and Bipolar disorder: The propensity towards psychosis

Schizophrenia, as we all know, is one of the most dibilating psychological disorder. It was primarily conceived of as a behavioral disorder, characterized by socially inappropriate and bizarre behavior, but much attention has been focussed nowadays on the cognitive component and the cognitive pathology underlying schizophrenia and it is not unusual for it to be characterized as a thought disorder nowadays .

Bipolar , or Manic Depressive disorder, on the other hand, has been primarily conceived of as a mood or affective disorder , characterized by excessive swings of emotion and motivation. One of my earlier post had tried to analyze the cognitive components involved in the Bipolar condition, and relate it to that found in unipolar depression.

While in my earlier posts, I have discussed the differences between the social and communicative difficulties of Autistic and Schizophrenic probands, especially in relation to their different cognitive styles, and how a milder form of such thinking can lead to different types of creativity, I had also promised for a similar dichotomous discussion of bipolarity at one end of the spectrum and depersonalization/ derealization/ ‘Alienation’ on the other hand- this time the important dimension being the feeling/emotion/motivation dimension.

While that discussion still awaits, I have come across a fascinating article by Lake et al(freely available, registration required) that tries to analyze the schizophrenic and bipolar type I disorders and concludes that there is no such thing as schizophrenia – the psychosis underlying schizophrenia, schizoaffcetive and Bipolar disorders is actually due to a not-yet-diagnosed Bipolar disorder in the patient. The extreme case of a Bipolar manic behavior would be a full-blown psychotic episode and in absence of proper assessment is likely to be diagnosed as schizophrenia. The article hopes, that identifying Bipolar in early stages would prevent unnecessary neuroleptics / anti-psychotics administration to the patient and prevent the significant side-effects of such medications and the rapid-cycling of the bipolar disorder itself, as mood stabilizers like Lithium and Valproate would not be given early on in the absence of bipolar diagnosis.

The other rationale for a single unified diagnosis of Bipolar is to prevent stigma associated with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. There has been well-documented research on the creativity-bipolar linkages; a similar research exists for creativity and schizotypal individuals- but due to the chronic, dibilating and adverse effects of a full-blown schizophrenic diagnosis , the literature about creativity and full-blown schizophrenia is limited (and perhaps inconclusive). The comprehensive ill-effects of a wrong diagnosis are given below:

For patient

  • Less likely to receive a mood stabilizer or antidepressant

  • Without a mood stabilizer, cycles increase and occur more rapidly; symptoms worsen

  • More likely to receive neuroleptics for life, increasing risk for severe and permanent side effects

  • Greater stigma with schizophrenia

  • Less likely to be employed

  • More likely to receive disability for life

  • More likely to “give up”

??For clinician

  • Increased risk of liability if patient given long-term neuroleptics instead of mood stabilizers develops tardive dyskinesia or commits suicide

The article takes a case study of a patient named Mr. C and tries to analyze how and why different diagnosis are made for the same patient depending on the presented symptoms and why Bipolar diagnosis occurs late in the cycle. Going through the case study may prove disheartening to many, and may make them skeptical of the whole psychiatry profession-leading to some anti-psychiatry rants too- yet one should realize that psychiatry is both an art as well as a science- asking the right question to get the patient (and disorder/ medication) history is very important. To appreciate this I would strongly recommend every body to read the “Selection of Antidepressant ‘ series on Corpus Callosum, which gives a fairly good idea of how psychiatrists make diagnosis in practice.

It is instructive to recall that we have earlier reported on a study that leads to common genetic markers for Psychosis and Mania– implying a single diagnosis, rather than a separate diagnosis of bipolarity or schizophrenia.

The article cites the following DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for Schizophrenia and explains how each is explicable as symptoms of extreme manic episode resulting in psychosis /depression.

Schizophrenia diagnosis6

Seen in psychotic mood disorders

Criterion A

??Hallucinations and delusions

50% to 80% explained by mood16,21


Hides grandiosity4


75% explained by mood7,8

??Disorganized speech and behavior

All patients with moderate to severe mania15

??Negative symptoms

All patients with moderate to severe depression4

Criterion B

??Social and job dysfunction

All patients with moderate to severe bipolar disorder5,13

Criterion C

??Chronic continuous symptoms

Patients can have psychotic symptoms continuously for 2 years to life5,6,13

I would like to pause here and group the symptoms of schizophrenia according to the basis they have:

  • A sensory basis (hallucinations etc, which may be due to senosrimotor gating as well as a lack of proper inhibition mechanisms; delusions of reference which may be due to inability to gate the inputs and thus end up treating everything as salient and consequently referring to self),
  • A cognitive basis (delusions – which may be due to extremes of normal cognitive biases that we all have – a manic delusion of grandeur- that may also lead paradoxically to delusions of paranoia( fear and suspicion) as one thinks of oneself as very special and hence vulnerable to the evil out there in the world)
  • A motor basis (catatonia – which may be due to problems with volitional control of motion- either too much control or too little- in one case ending up in the positions in which someone else has put them in- in the other remaining in the same position (samadhi in religious contexts) by exercising the will to move. Here again dopamine dysfunction would be relevant as it is involved in motor pathways.
  • A social/theory of mind basis (disorganized speech(flight of ideas) as one assumes too much ToM abilities in others and believes that the specifics one has left unsaid- and the abstract way in which one is talking – is comprehensible to others; disorganized behavior- which may be due to not taking social appropriateness into account as one is presumably on a very important mission on Earth.
  • An embodiment/ grounding basis and problems with agency(religiosity as one thinks of oneself as not grounded in the body and thus may lead to delusions of control and persecution (as a shadow that is embodied elsewhere is trying to control one) . Here metaphorical thinking and use of symbols as symbols for something else (an overarching idea) rather than referring to something out in the world may lead to loss with reality and magical thinking that takes too much correlation-is-causation kind of thinking and extends it to non-material and non-living things.
  • An Affective basis ( related to the fifth point for those who believe that emotions are due to body states) : the characteristic anhedonia , alogia and avolition. Symptoms that are similar in many ways to the symptoms of depressive state.
  • A Volitional basis (social and job dysfunction may be due to disturbances in the volitional system- too much goal direction (and where the goal happens to be not socially or work-place acceptable) leads to job dysfunction as does too less of goal-directed behavior.
  • Chronic nature: once neuroleptics are started one gets caught in the downward vicious circle. Also the nature of the disorder is cyclic just like the Bipolar with Positive symptoms more prominent in one phase and negative symptoms more prominent in the other phase. In between there can be remission and proper functioning.

Thus, I agree with the broad assessment of Lake et al, that most cases of schizophrenia may be juts an undiagnosed psychotic bipolar episode. Yet, I believe that schizophrenia is a heterogeneous disorder and there may be one or more sub-types. In my view schizophrenia proper leans more towards ToM/ social/ cognitive/ agency dysfunctions while Manic depressive is more about affective and volitional and recurrent dimensions. In my developmental framework; while the schizophrenic struggle with the first five developmental tasks; the bipolar struggle with the next three. Yet their common psychotic style confers susceptibility to psychosis in both cases. This would be as opposed to the same developmental challenges also faced by those with Autism/ depersonalization/ derelaization etc., who have an entirely different take on these issues. While one leans towards science (whose utility is well established); the other leans towards arts (whose utility is doubted sometimes), but which in my view is very important.

We are getting evidence of how emotions can affect decisions towards a better outcome and how having a framework that gives one a sense of meaning and purpose is essential. Science and evolutionary thinking at times robs us of these finer appreciations of life- at that time we do need a counter-dose of Art to keep us more grounded and to make life more enjoyable and worth living- even if that costs some people their sanity!! Maybe we need both GOD and evolution; both science and faith to keep us sane and on the right course.

Hat Tip: Neurofuture

Schizophrenia and Autism: The Two Cultures.

Mind Hacks has highlighted two posts from the BPS Research Digest that highlight the work of Daniel Nettle, related to Scizotypy and evolutionary benefit especially the linkages between schizotypy and artistic creativity.

To recap the schizotypy dimensions:

  1. Unusual experiences: The disposition to have unusual perceptual and other cognitive experiences, such as hallucinations, magical or superstitious belief and interpretation of events . In the clinical form manifests as positive symptoms of hallucinations and delusions.
  2. Cognitive disorganization: A tendency for thoughts to become derailed, disorganized or tangential. In the clinical form manifests as the positive symptoms of disorganized speech and flight of ideas.
  3. Introverted anhedonia: A tendency to introverted, emotionally flat and asocial behavior, associated with a deficiency in the ability to feel pleasure from social and physical stimulation. This manifests clinically as the negative symptoms of flattened affect,alogia and avolition.
  4. Impulsive nonconformity: The disposition to unstable mood and behavior particularly with regard to rules and social conventions. Manifests clinically as disorganized and socially inappropriate behavior like dressing inappropriately.

To summarize the key findings of the first Nettle paper:

  1. Unusual Experiences dimension (in general population) correlated positively with number of partners and mating success. This relationship was mediated by creative activity. Thus, unusual experiences are hypothesized to lead to creative activities, which in turn increase reproductive fitness.
  2. Impulsive Nonconformity had a direct positive correlation with number of partners and mating success. It independently led to increase in reproductive fitness and the effect was not mediated via creative activity.
  3. Introvertive Anhedonia decreases creative activity, and also has a direct negative effect on mating success.
  4. Cognitive Disorganization seemed to had no significant effect on mating success.
  5. Thus, while part of the reason for continuing prevalence of schizophrenia/schizotypy may be explained by the direct effect of Impulsive Non-conformity on Mating Success, the other part can only be explained by the benefits of creative activity that are conferred by Unusual Experiences.

As Introverted Anhedonia has a negative effect on both creative activity and mating success, it seems reasonable to posit, that while schizophrenia patients may suffer from the negative interaction between Unusual Experiences and Introverted Anhedonia; some of their relatives may benefit from the unusual experiences, while being spared from the effects of Introverted Anhedonia, and thus be specially selected for mating success that is mediated by creative activity. This creative advantage that the relatives of schizophrenia have, may have led to the fixation of this disorder in humans.

The second nettle paper explores the relationship between schizotypy and artistic creativity. the key finding here are:

1. Poetic creativity:

  • Unusual Experiences score increase in a significant manner from non-poets, to hobbyists to serious poets. It slightly decreases with professional poets.
  • The same trend is shown by Impulsive Nonconformity and Cognitive Disorganization.
  • Introverted Anhedonia, on the other hand, shows a non-significant trend to decrease with increasing creative activity.

2. Visual art creativity:

  • The trends for Unusual Experiences, Impulsive Nonconformity and Cognitive Disorganization are the same as in case of poetry, the only difference being that Cognitive Disorganization trend is not significant.
  • Introverted Anhedonia, on the other hand, shows a significant trend to decrease with increasing creative activity.

3. Mathematical creativity:

  • The trends are opposite to that of poetic and visual arts creativity in this case.
  • The scores for Unusual Experiences, Impulsive Nonconformity and Cognitive Disorganization decrease with mathematics engagements level.
  • The scores for Introverted Anhedonia, increase and correlate with mathematical activity.

4. The conclusion is that schizotypal traits like Unusual Experiences, Impulsive Nonconformity and Cognitive Disorganization are instrumental in creative thinking and thus have beneficial effects of stimulating creativity. Though the effect size of Unusual Experiences is the strongest, other traits also have significant effects. Increasingly serious creative engagement is associated with a decrease in introvertive anhedonia and this negative trait is thus a liability.

The authors thus conclude:

The findings provide some support for the two-factor model of Barron (1972). Creative groups are as high as patients on unusual experiences and cognitive disorganization, but lower than controls on introvertive anhedonia. Thus, artistic groups and psychiatric patients share divergent thought, but they differ in that the latter are troubled with negative symptoms such as avolition and anhedonia, whilst the former are unusually free of these traits. This is also congruent with Schuldberg’s findings that creativity scores are positively correlated with scales of positive psychotic or hypomanic symptoms, and negatively.

This, the author had hypothesized earlier in the paper, might be an alternative to an inverted-U model of benefits provided by Schizotypal traits.:

An alternative possibility comes from the two-factor approach of Frank Barron. Barron (1972) argued that successful creativity combines deviant and psychopathological traits with high scores on measures of ‘Ego strength’. Ego strength includes resilience, ability to cope with stress, self-control and high levels of experienced well-being. Ego strength is thus a mediating factor that determines whether schizotypy is translated into damaging symptoms or healthy creative output. Schuldberg’s(1990) work is relevant to this model, finding as it does that scales based on positive symptoms correlate positively with creativity scores, whereas scales based on negative symptoms correlate negatively. Thus, a lack of negative symptoms would appear to be equivalent to high ‘Ego strength’ in Barron’s terms. The prediction in terms of the O-LIFE dimensions would therefore be that creativity would be associated positively with unusual experiences but negatively with introvertive anhedonia.

He further tries to correlate this with the ‘systemising’ theory of autism:

This profile supports the picture of the mathematical mind as having opposite features to the artistic one, with a narrow range of associations (low unusual experiences), an interest in order (low cognitive disorganization), and in routine (low impulsive nonconformity). These findings are consonant with Baron-Cohen’s work on systemising as a core feature of autistic spectrum disorders. Systemising is a cognitive style characterized by a drive for order and regularity, which is elevated in high-functioning autism and in mathematics and engineering (Baron-Cohen et al., 2003; Baron-Cohen et al., 2001). The constellation of autism, systemising and science appears to be in many respects the opposite tail of the distribution to the constellation of arts, unusual experiences and affective and psychotic disorders explored in the present study.

The authors, also present the following theory of autism:

Autistic traits are in many ways the converse of the unusual experiences component of schizotypy. Whereas schizotypal thought is characterized by often metaphorical leaps from domain to domain, remote associations, and broad attentional set, autism is characterized by narrow interests and liberality, with occasionally highly developed abilities in tasks requiring systematic and convergent thinking.

I believe they have stumbled on a very important conceptualization. I myself had been contemplating the Schizophrenia- Autism linkages for quite some time. In my view, the contention that Schizophrenia reflects aspects of artistic creativity, while Autism may reflect aspects of mathematical creativity is a positive diversion form the usual male/female systematizing/empathizing spin on Autism. It is instructive to note, that while Autism is a predominantly male illness, prevalence of Schizophrenia too, is greater in Males compared to females. thus, a simple Male- Female dichotomy does not work.

I do believe that there are theory-of-mind deficits in Autism and these are responsible for their social difficulties, and this may be the opposite of the empathetic brain, but that deficit in empathy should not be construed as equivalent to a positive endowment with systematic thinking. In my view, the empathy defect is independent of the other defects like communicative and repetitive and stereotyped behavior defects. The empathy defect has to do with emotions and feelings, while the other defects might be cognitive and behavioral in nature.

Both Schizophrenia and Autism are spectrum disorders, and hence we will consider differences between the spectrum.

Let me now address the differences in Autism and Schizophrenia spectrum :

  1. Literal vs Metaphorical thinking. One of this blog’s reader, Mrs Mc Ewen, had recently left a comment on this site and I discovered that she is a mother of two autistic kids and maintains a blog related to that. I found one of the entries related to Literal interpretation in autism both humorous, informative and sad at the same time. On the other hand, I am well acquainted with the metaphorical thinking indulged in by schizophrenics (I’ve written a sort of Novella that revolves round that theme), and as I find the Conceptual Metaphor Theory for linguistic semantics full of promise, I have no trouble understanding the language developmental delay in Autism, or the literary/ artistic creativity of Schizotypal pro band. After all, much of art is using symbolism, metaphor etc and involves non-literal interpretation. This difference alone can account for the communication deficits faced by Autistic children. This is related to the schizotypy dimension Unusual Experiences.
  2. Convergent Vs Divergent thinking: Schizophrenia spectrum is marked by cognitive disorganization, flights of ideas and looses associations. It is also marked by including too much of context and in pathological cases characterized by an effort to relate each and every happening to some preexisting context (if the context is of Paronia- every event is a conspiracy; if the context is of grandeur, every event is significant and referring to self). Autistic spectrum, is not only marked by the absence of these and a low score on the corresponding schizotypal trait; but by an opposite tendency of Central Coherence. there is some research that indicates, that Autistic children show both perceptual and conceptual central coherence: i.e. a tendency to only focus on one piece at a time and an inability to use gestalt perception or conceptualization whereby one could indulge in a top-down ‘imaginary’ assembly of fragments to identify an object. thus, they take , too little of context, in my view and make lesses association than desired. One can also hypothesize, that would yield lesser scores than controls and definitely lesser scores than schizophrenics on the unusual/ novel object uses task. This may also partially explain symptoms like circumscribed and specialized interests in autism. This is related to Schizotypy dimension Disorganized Thinking.
  3. Reality vs. Fantasy (imagination) orientation: This relates to whether one has an ability to indulge in make-believe or in activities like pretend play. I believe that this propensity to use imagination may be linked to the unusual experiences like hallucinations that are found in schizophrenics. Magical thinking, involving endowing inanimate objects like Voodoo dolls or lucky charms, with causative powers may be converse of the autistic inability to differentiate between animals and inanimate objects, or to easily learn to distinguish between self-intended motion of a human/ animal and a pushed or caused motion of an inanimate object. It is instructive to pause here, and reflect, that much of human Agreeableness and Empathy also has to do on make-believe. One may not always love one’s friend, but out of respect and social courtesy, one would always pretend to do so. The reality orientation of autistic children, (apart form any empathy/ mirror neuron defects) may also underlie their social difficulties like inability to make friends and impaired social play. This is related to the schizotypy dimension Unusual experience.
  4. Routine and order Vs. Novelty preference: Autistic children are characterized by repetitive and stereotyped behavior. Schizophrenia spectrum on the other hand is high on Openness to Experience and usually display preferences for reckless, novel, socially inappropriate and sensation seeking behavior. This difference may underlie the stereotyped behavior like rigidity exhibited by autistic children. This is related to schizotypy dimension Impulsive, Nonconformity.

Overall, one possible mechanism underlying these differences can be a sensori-motor and conceptual gating defect in both the disorders- with schizophrenia signifying a very broad sensori-motor and conceptual gate with consequent broad attentional span, loose associations and too much of context; and Autism representing a very narrow spatial and temporal gate with consequent specialized interests and focus, few associations, literal and convergent thinking.

If one couples this with the phenomenon of pre-pulse inhibition (defect of schizophrenia) , then it may be theorized that as a schizophrenic would interpret all stimuli in a novel way (presentations of a stimuli earlier, does not lead to its memory or the suppression of the startle response), hence it would also develop preference for, or at least not be intimidated by, a novel item. On the other hand, due to the smaller sensory gate, and normal PPI, the autistic children would mostly be exposed to the smae stimuli over and over gaian and may develop a preference for it over any new stimuli which, when gated through its small gate, would cause it to get startled. I am even tempted to theorize that autistic children may have a high PPI than normals, but a quick Google search didn’t corroborate my speculations.

Lastly, a discussion of Anhedonia, and how that interacts with positive schizotypy and autism will need some more thinking and conceptualization. For now, I am tempted to posit that Anhedonia may be one of the dimensions of the female counterpart of Schizotypy-Autism thinking styles. Females, I believe, are more prone to depression (the primary correlate of Anhedonia) and maybe just like a Schizotypy-Autism spectrum that is along cognitive thinking styles; there might exist a Depersonlization-Bipolarity spectrum that runs along the emotion-motivation feeling styles and may reflect the two fundamental styles of emotional processing- one involving use of too much emotion and motivation (bipolarity) and the other characterized by lack of emotion and motivation (depersonalization).

While creativity (thinking) of both types (scizotypal-autistic or artistic-scientific), might have been selected by sexual selection in males; the corresponding traits that would be under sexual selection for females might be virtue/aesthetics (feeling) of both types: one subjective and based on personal constructs of emotions and motivations and the other objective and based on utilitarian concerns and needing one to put aside one’s own feelings and emotions.

Just a speculation. Do let me know, your views and opinions (or any supporting researches)!