Creativity and psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, share genetic roots, suggests a study published online this week in Nature Neuroscience. For the purposes of the study, creative individuals were defined as those belonging to national artistic societies or having an artistic profession.
Epidemiological studies show that relatives of those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are over-represented in creative professions. It is unclear, however, whether this association is a result of shared genetics or common environmental influences.
Kari Stefansson and colleagues utilized genetic data from large studies involving over 150,000 individuals that were healthy, or diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. They found that the genetic variants associated with increased disease risk in those studies also predicted disease risk in a separate population of 86,292 individuals from Iceland. These same genetic variants also predicted whether Icelanders, free from any psychiatric diagnoses, were members of the Icelandic national artistic societies of actors, dancers, musicians, visual artists and writers.
The authors then found that these same genetic variants predicted whether individuals in separate groups of 8,893 people from Sweden and 18,452 people from the Netherlands were employed in creative professions. This relationship in all groups could not be accounted for by differences in IQ, educational attainment or how closely an individual was related to someone with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Thus, genetic factors that increase the propensity for certain mental illnesses may also influence the creative aptitude of unrelated, healthy individuals.