Creative skills are common in people who have mental illness in the family, and there is also a higher risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Traits such as making unusual or bizarre associations are also shared by schizophrenics and healthy, highly creative people. Now, Swedish researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm have proved that the correlation between creativity and mental health has scientific backing.

"We studied the brain and the dopamine D2 receptors and saw that the dopamine system of healthy, highly creative people is similar to that found in people with schizophrenia," said associate professor Fredrik UllÚn from Karolinska Institutet's Department of Woman and Child Health.

Just which brain mechanisms cause this correlation is still unknown, but UllÚn observes that systems in the brain that use dopamine are significant. For example, dopamine receptor genes are linked to divergent thought. His study measured the creativity of healthy individuals using divergent psychological tests in which the task was to find many different solutions to a problem.

"The study showed that highly creative people who did well on the divergent tests had a lower density of D2 receptors in the thalamus than less creative people. Schizophrenics are also known to have low D2 density in this part of the brain,"he noted. The thalamus serves as a kind of relay center, filtering information before it reaches areas of the cortex, which is responsible for cognition and reasoning.

"Fewer D2 receptors in the thalamus probably means a lower degree of signal filtering, and thus a higher flow of information from the thalamus," explained UllÚn. He thinks that this could be the mechanism that allows creative people to see uncommon connections in a solving problems as well as the bizarre associations that inflict the mentally ill.

"Thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box," concluded UllÚn about his findings.

Source: Karolinska Institutet / www.ki.se