Dopamine, Mental Illness and Creativity

A new study by researchers at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet supports the hypothesis that there is a link between mental illness and creativity. More specifically, they showed that highly creative people – with high scores in divergent thinking – had a lower density of D2 receptors in their thalamus than less creative people. Lower density of D2 receptors is a consistent finding in patients with schizophrenia. The authors suggest that lower density of D2 receptors may be “one factor that facilitates performance on divergent thinking tasks.”, as it could possibly:

“lower thalamic gating thresholds, resulting in decreased filtering and autoregulation of information flow and, increase excitation of cortical regions through decreased inhibition of prefrontal pyramidal neurons. The decreased prefrontal signal-to-noise ratio may place networks of cortical neurons in a more labile state, allowing them to more easily switch between representations and process multiple stimuli across a wider association range. This state, which we hereforth will refer to as the “creative bias”, could benefit performance on tasks that involve continuous generation and (re-)combination of mental representations and switching between mind-sets

However, decreased signal-to-noise ratio is also associated with some drawbacks (i.e. cognitive disorganization, poor performance on tasks of selective attention), some of which are linked to psychopathology. As de Manzano and colleagues conclude:

“..thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box.”

ResearchBlogging.orgde Manzano, Örjan, Cervenka, Simon, Karabanov, Anke, Farde, Lars, & Ullén, Fredrik (2010). Thinking Outside a Less Intact Box: Thalamic Dopamine D2 Receptor Densities Are Negatively Related to Psychometric Creativity in Healthy Individuals PLoS ONE DOI: