Sci-Tech

‘Mad’ scientists find
out why geniuses ‘go
mad’

From the movie “A Beautiful Mind” to television drama “House M.D.,” the notion of the psychotic genius has always been popular to public audiences.

However, scientists with a history of various mental conditions themselves have suggested that there is an actual correlation between being mentally ill and being smart, according to an article on the website Livescience.

In the report, a group of panelists at the annual World Science Festival in New York on Thursday said that a previous study in 2010 indicated that smarter people were more likely to develop bipolar disorder.

“They found that people who excelled when they were 16 years old were four times as likely to go on to develop bipolar disorder,” said psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison from Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, who suffers from the disease herself. The study was conducted on 700,000 Swedish teenagers.

Another panelist, neurobiologist James Fallon from the University California-Irvine, explained that people suffering from psychosis such as bipolar disease are likely to come up with more creative ideas.

This happens because the brain activity that takes place when a person “comes out of deep depression” is very similar to the process that happens when a person’s creativity is flaring.

In both cases, activity in the lower part of the brain’s frontal lobe weakens while activity in the higher part of the lobe increases, Fallon said.

In addition, people with mental disorders tend to be creative because they venture through more possibilities than other people.

The brain typically buries ideas that are not considered worthy in its subconscious, but people with psychosis do not “filter” ideas thoroughly, according to the third panelist, Elyn Saks, a mental health law professor at the University of Southern California. Brainstorming through abundant, free-flowing ideas means a greater chance at sparking ingenuity.

Such process is depicted in popular TV drama “House M.D.,” through the ingenious diagnostician Gregory House, played by English actor Hugh Laurie. House, who appears to suffer from an unspecified mental disorder, explores through possibilities that many of his co-workers often dismiss as “absurd” or “far-fetched,” and usually comes up with the correct diagnosis.

The panelists added that this does not mean such “psychosis-induced genius” is covetable or worthwhile.

These mental conditions accompany symptoms that severely hinder the quality of life, and many of the “tortured geniuses” do not always consider their brilliance to be worth the excessive pain.

Many of the well-known, exceptionally creative minds, from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Vincent Van Gogh to Jimmie Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, have been suspected of being bipolar. All of them went through extensive pain and adversity in their lives, and died relatively young.

“I think the creativity is just one part of something that is mostly bad,” said Saks, who has a history of schizophrenia.

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