Creative People and Those with Mental Health Issues Share These Common Traits


People with extraordinarily high IQs, and very creative individuals, have often been accused of walking a fine line between genius and mental instability. But do people with extremely creative personalities and people with legitimate mental health issues have similar traits?

According to a new study led by Andreas Fink of the University of Graz, they do.

In particular, previous research conducted on writers has revealed that poets and novelists have a disproportionately high level of mental health problems, specifically bipolar disorder.

“Throughout the course of history, creativity has been linked to many different forms of mental disorders (e.g., alcoholism, substance abuse, depression, etc.),” said Fink. “To provide an explanation for the presumed link between creativity and psychopathology, it has been assumed that both variables share some common mental processes such as reduced cognitive inhibition, flat associative gradients, or reduced latent inhibition, which refers to the capacity of the brain to screen events that were previously experienced as irrelevant from conscious awareness.”

Fink and colleagues evaluated 69 college students, some of whom were actors, others were self-admitted drug or alcohol dependent students, and the remainder expressed no creative behaviors or dependency issues. Because past research has indicated that creative individuals tend to switch back and forth between primary and secondary modes of thinking and are better able to multi-task than uncreative individuals, the researchers administered task tests to the participants, including the creativity test, Berliner Intelligenz Struktur Test.

The researchers discovered that the actors exhibited the highest degree of psychoticism, with the drug-using actors scoring the highest.

Additionally, these same students had the lowest latent inhibition rates of all the participants, a trait found in many individuals with borderline personality issues. The team added, “Taken together, we may nevertheless conclude that some personality and cognitive traits may be quite similar between creative people and people suffering from (mild forms of) mental disorders, among which the most important ones are the personality dimension psychoticism and the cognitive inhibitory mechanism latent inhibition.”

By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington | GoodTherapy.org