Schizophrenia and creativity may share the same genes

People with mental illness are often stereotyped as crazy, different and eccentric, but this judgment may not be far from the truth, according to a new study published in Nature Neuroscience.

Researchers found that the same genes linked to creativity could also raise a person's risk for developing schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

"It has long been suggested that creativity and psychosis show certain similarities, with notable examples of artists such as Vincent Van Gogh who themselves suffered from psychiatric illnesses," a news release on the research stated.

More than 86,000 individuals from Iceland were involved as part of the study, which was led by a team from King's College London and researchers from deCODE Genetics.

While risk for schizophrenia is often thought to have environmental roots, the current study suggests that certain genetic factors that influence creativity could play a role in the development of the disease.

A genetic disposition to think 'differently'

Researchers found that creative individuals - those defined as writers, visual artists, actors or dancers - had much higher genetic risk factors for both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder than their peers. Risk in this group was about halfway between the genetic risk observed for individuals who already had one of these disorders and the general population.

According to first author of the study Robert Power, exploring the genetic link between creativity and mental illness could help researchers understand the biology, thought processes and behaviors of people suffering from these disorders.

"Our findings suggest that creative people may have a genetic predisposition towards thinking differently which, when combined with other harmful biological or environmental factors, could lead to mental illness," Power said.

Source: King's College London

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