Why Creative Thinking and Schizotypal Personalities go Together

Having a quirky oddball personality may be the secret to becoming a great artist, composer or inventor.

“The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.”
― Pablo Picasso

A 2005 research study on individuals with schizotypal personalities offers neurological evidence that these individuals are more creative than normal or fully schizophrenic people, and rely more heavily on the right sides of their brains than the general population to access their creativity.

People with schizotypal personality are characterized by odd behavior and language but are not psychotic or schizophrenic.

Psychologists think that a number of famous creative icons, including Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson and Isaac Newton, had schizotypal personalities.

“The idea that schizotypes have enhanced creativity has been out there for a long time but no one has investigated the behavioral manifestations andtheir neural correlates experimentally,” Vanderbilt psychologist Brad Folley says. “Our paper is unique because we investigated the creative process experimentally and we also looked at the blood flow in the brain while research subjects were undergoing creative tasks.”

Creativity Types Compared

Folley and his colleague Sohee Park did two experiments comparing the creative thinking processes of schizotypes, schizophrenics and normal subjects.

In the first experiment, researchers showed test participants a number of household objects and asked them to make up new uses for them.

The results showed that the schizotypes were better able to creatively suggest new a function for the objects, while the schizophrenics and average subjects performed similarly to one another.

“Thought processes for individuals with schizophrenia are often very disorganized, almost to the point where they can’t really be creative because they cannot get all of their thoughts coherent enough to do that,” Folley explained.”Schizotypes, on the other hand, are free from the severe, debilitating symptoms surrounding schizophrenia and also have an enhanced creative ability.”

Near-infrared Optical Spectroscopy

The three study groups in the second experiment, were again asked to make up new uses for everyday objects as well as to perform a basic control task while the activity in their prefrontal lobes was monitored using a brain scanning techniques called near-infrared optical spectroscopy.

The scans showed that all groups used both brain hemispheres for creative tasks, but that the activation of the right hemispheres of the schizotypes was dramatically greater than that of the schizophrenic and average subjects, suggesting one positive benefit of schizotypy.

“In the scientific community, the popular idea that creativity exists in the right side of the brain is thought to be ridiculous, because you need both hemispheres of your brain to make novel associations and to perform other creative tasks,” said Folley. “We found that all three groups, schizotypes, schizophrenics and normal controls, did use both hemispheres when performing creative tasks. But the brain scans of the schizotypes showed a hugely increased activation of the right hemisphere compared to the schizophrenics and the normal controls.”

Folley and Park believe that the results suggest that schizotypes and other psychoses prone populations utilize the left and right sides of their brains differently than the average population, and that this bilateral use of the brain for a variety of tasks may be related to their enhanced creativity.

Schizotypes are neither Right nor Left-handed

I force myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”
― Marcel Duchamp

Research by Swiss neuroscientist Peter Brugger supports this theory. Brugger found that everyday associations, such as recognizing the car key on your keychain, and verbal abilities are controlled by the left hemisphere. Novel associations, such as finding a new use for a object or navigating a new place, are controlled by the right hemisphere, he believed.

Brugger hypothesized that schizotypes should make novel associations faster because they are better at accessing both hemispheres. This prediction was verified in an ensuing study.

His theory could also explain research which shows that a disproportional number of schizotypes and schizophrenics are neither right nor left hand dominant. They use both hands for a variety of tasks, suggesting that they recruit both sides of their brains for a variety of tasks more so than the average person.

“The lack of specialization for certain tasks in brain hemispheres could be seen as a liability, but the increased communication between the hemispheres actually could provide added creativity,” Folley says.

What is Schizotypal Personality Disorder?

Taxi DriverSchizotypal personality disorder (STPD) is a personality disorder marked by a need for social isolation, anxiety in social situations, odd behavior and thinking, and often unconventional beliefs. People with this disorder feel extreme discomfort with maintaining close relationships with people, so they avoid forming them.

Peculiar speech mannerisms and odd modes of dress are also diagnostic signs of this disorder. In some cases, people with STPD may react oddly in conversations, not respond, or talk to themselves. They frequently misinterpret situations as being strange or having unusual meaning for them; paranormal and superstitious beliefs are not uncommon.

Such people frequently seek medical attention for anxiety or depression instead of their personality disorder. Schizotypal personality disorder occurs in 3% of the general population and is slightly more common in males.

The term “schizotypal” is derived from “schizotype,” and was coined by Sandor Rado in 1956 as an abbreviation of one phenotype of a “schizophrenic genotype”.] Schizotypal personality disorder may in some cases be a precursor to schizophrenia.

Sources:

1. Raine, A. (2006).
Schizotypal personality: Neurodevelopmental and psychosocial trajectories“.
Annual Review of Psychology 2: 291–326. doi:10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.2.022305.095318.

2. Schizotypal Personality Disorder: A Case Study of the Movie Classic TAXI DRIVER

Top Photo by Mike Beauregard