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J Psychiatr Res. 2005 Nov;39(6):623-31. Epub 2005 Mar 2.

Creativity in familial bipolar disorder.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305 5540, USA.


Studies have demonstrated relationships between creativity and bipolar disorder (BD) in individuals, and suggested familial transmission of both creativity and BD. However, to date, there have been no studies specifically examining creativity in offspring of bipolar parents and clarifying mechanisms of intergenerational transmission of creativity. We compared creativity in bipolar parents and their offspring with BD and bipolar offspring with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with healthy control adults and their children. 40 adults with BD, 20 bipolar offspring with BD, 20 bipolar offspring with ADHD, and 18 healthy control parents and their healthy control children completed the Barron-Welsh Art Scale (BWAS), an objective measure of creativity. Adults with BD compared to controls scored significantly (120%) higher on the BWAS Dislike subscale, and non-significantly (32%) higher on the BWAS Total scale. Mean BWAS Dislike subscale scores were also significantly higher in offspring with BD (107% higher) and offspring with ADHD (91% higher) than in healthy control children. Compared to healthy control children, offspring with BD had 67% higher and offspring with ADHD had 40% higher BWAS Total scores, but these differences failed to reach statistical significance when adjusted for age. In the bipolar offspring with BD, BWAS Total scores were negatively correlated with duration of illness. The results of this study support an association between BD and creativity and contribute to a better understanding of possible mechanisms of transmission of creativity in families with genetic susceptibility for BD. This is the first study to show that children with and at high risk for BD have higher creativity than healthy control children. The finding in children and in adults was related to an enhanced ability to experience and express dislike of simple and symmetric images. This could reflect increased access to negative affect, which could yield both benefits with respect to providing affective energy for creative achievement, but also yield liabilities with respect to quality of interpersonal relationships or susceptibility to depression.

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