“…A growing body of research highlights a positive correlation between mental illness and heightened creativity…greater creativity is associated with higher levels of schizotypal traits….”


Schizotypy includes:

  • the presence of schizophrenic-like thought patterns and/or belief systems in the absence of psychosis,
  • including traits such as
  • magical thinking
  • unusual perceptual experiences
  • paranormal beliefs

…Schizotypy, creativity, and laterality appear intimately related, implying a common, presumably genetic, underlying mechanism. A [behavioral] bias toward broad processing, and drawing links between disparate concepts and apparently unrelated ideas, appears central to both the traits of schizotypy (e.g., magical ideation, perceptual aberrations) and superior performance on measures of creativity (e.g., divergent thinking); this cognitive bias appears to reflect predominant right hemisphere processing.

Such traits index highly with a variety of unusual behaviors, prompting others to describe the schizotypal personality as “odd” or “eccentric”. Although schizotypy is associated with vulnerability to schizophrenia, it is also linked with enhanced creativity: people involved in creative professions, such as musicians and visual artists, gain higher scores on measures of schizotypy than those in non-creative professions.

Similarly, people with normal but high levels of schizotypal traits gain higher scores on a variety of measures of creativity, including:

  • conceptual expansion (drawing animals that reside on another planet),
  • creative imagery (inventing and assembling an object from 3-dimensional figures) and the
  • Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (10 performance subtests that assess both verbal and non-verbal creative thinking…).

Such findings index a close relationship between schizotypal traits, such as magical thinking and unusual perceptual experiences, and creative thinking.

Schizotypy and Cognitive Style
Given that novelty forms a key component of creativity, an ability to think “outside the box” is a valuable characteristic of the creative mind. Whereas a wildly unconstrained, loosely-associated thinking style has a maladaptive manifestation in the disordered thinking symptomatic of schizophrenia, a moderate tendency toward linking remotely-associated concepts appears evolutionarily advantageous in that it promotes creative thinking.

This may help explain the link between high levels of schizotypal traits and enhanced creativity: whereas disordered thinking in schizophrenia is beyond the individual’s control, people with normal but high levels of schizotypal traits retain a greater degree of control over their cognitive processes. Thus, in schizotypy, the propensity to link remotely-associated concepts may serve to enhance creativity.

In assessing creativity, psychological research often relies on measures of divergent thinking, measuring “creativity” itself appearing too broad, too subjective, and perhaps simply ineffable. Divergent thinking is a flexible, open, and associative thinking style beneficial in solving complex problems and generating novel associations.  Measures of divergent thinking confirm that people with normal but high levels of schizotypal traits show enhanced divergent thinking, indicating superior ability in generating novel associations.  This ability to draw connections between elements that initially appear to have nothing in common represents a fundamental component of creativity. In terms of semantic representation, it appears likely to result from “flatter” association hierarchies (i.e., more and broader associations to a stimulus); such hierarchies generate more creative solutions because they facilitate the drawing together of a wide range of information to solve a problem. In contrast, because “steeper” association hierarchies (i.e., fewer, more common associations to a stimulus) are more focussed, activating a narrow range of the most common associations, they are less conducive to creative generation.

Research confirms that people with high levels of schizotypal traits activate flatter association hierarchies, allowing them to draw connections between distantly-related semantic associates.  For example, people with higher magical ideation scores (a core component of measures of schizotypy) judge unrelated words to be more closely related than people with lower magical ideation scores, suggesting facility in linking unrelated ideas….that people who believe in paranormal phenomena produce more original word associations than skeptics, suggesting looser semantic associations and a greater ability to link unrelated ideas. As heightened schizotypy is a predictor of increased paranormal belief, such findings appear highly consistent. The tendency to make links between unrelated or distantly-related concepts contrasts with the conceptual boundaries that typify “normal” thinking, but characterizes both schizotypal and creative thinking. Schizotypy and creativity are also linked by atypical cerebral lateralization, suggesting a potential causal link.

Laterality, Schizotypy, and Creativity

Atypical lateralization and greater involvement of the right hemisphere may help explain the heightened creativity associated with schizotypy.

The brains of people with schizophrenia evidence both structural and functional a typicalities, showing reduced hemispheric lateralization in comparison with healthy controls. Consistent with the proposed continuum between normal functioning and schizophrenia, with schizotypy representing “the less deviant bedfellow of ‘schizophrenia’,”, people with high levels of schizotypal traits also show evidence of reduced or reversed hemispheric asymmetry.

…Such findings imply greater than normal involvement of the right hemisphere in schizotypal individuals, consistent with research demonstrating a significant association between heightened creativity, schizotypy, and greater reliance on the right hemisphere…Whereas activation in the left hemisphere spreads in a focussed manner, consistent with a more narrow, focussed semantic network and a steep associational hierarchy, activation in the right hemisphere spreads in a broader, more diffuse way, potentially facilitating links between distant associations in a flat associational hierarchy.  Consequently, priming the left hemisphere with an ambiguous word (e.g., bank, scales) prompts activation of only the dominant meaning (e.g., money, weight); in contrast, priming the right hemisphere activates both dominant and subordinate associations (e.g., river, fish).

…the ability to draw links between remotely associated concepts engages right hemisphere processes, consistent with the proposed diffuse semantic network in that hemisphere.  Recent functional imaging data offer further support, highlighting a link between diffuse allocation of attention and heightened creativity. Overall, reduced hemispheric lateralization and diffuse attentional allocation appear beneficial for creativity, and indeed, are likely to play a causal role in the heightened creativity evident in people with high levels of schizotypal traits. A less lateralised brain may allow greater interhemispheric communication and transfer, facilitating the flat associational hierarchy that allows the drawing together of disparate concepts that promotes creative thinking

the causal mechanism is presently unresolved. Genetic investigations presumably hold the key. For example demonstrated a link between the dopaminergic system and creativity, with divergent thinking ability associated with polymorphism of the gene coding for DRD4 (dopamine receptor). Genome-wide investigations similarly show great promise, …confirming genetic linkage between the regions coding for atypical cerebral asymmetry and disorders including autism, implying a shared phenotype. Similar genome-wide investigation is needed to investigate the presence of regions of linkage overlap in the genes for schizotypy, creativity, and atypical lateralization, potentially offering biological support for the proposed link between creative genius and madness.

Digested from –
Front. Psychol., 28 July 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00813
On the interrelation between reduced lateralization, schizotypy, and creativity


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