Creative people’s brains similar to schizophrenics’ brains, study finds

Creative people may think broadly and make unusual associations because they, like schizophrenics, may be less able to filter out information, a Swedish study found.

Researchers at the Stockholm-based Karolinska Institute followed 13 healthy men and women who took creativity tests. The more solutions the participants found for a problem, the higher their creativity levels were. The researchers also studied images of the people’s brains.

The creative problem-solvers had a lower concentration of proteins that aid in the chemical transmission of information in the thalamus, the part of the brain that determines what data is relevant for reasoning, according to the study. That’s a trait commonly found in patients with schizophrenia, a mental illness whose symptoms include hallucinations, jumbled thoughts and paranoia.

“The question is how much is filtered away and how much does the thalamus allow to be put through” to the cortex, where reasoning takes place, said Fredrik Ullen, an associate professor at the institute, in a phone interview. “If you have more information in the cortex, you should be able to make more associations. You might see things that other people don’t.”

“We tend to think of psychiatric diseases as negative, as destructive,” he said. “But we can see that some traits or components of psychiatric disease may be useful.”

Researchers limited the number of study participants because of the high cost of taking brain images, Ullen said. The study was published in the journal PLoS One, a publication of the Public Library of Science, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization.