[Paleopsych] Vanderbilt U.: Odd behavior and creativity may go hand-in-hand

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Odd behavior and creativity may go hand-in-hand
By Melanie Moran

Often viewed as a hindrance, having a quirky or socially awkward approach to 
lifemay be the key to becoming a great artist, composer or inventor.

New research on individuals with schizotypal personalities ? people 
characterized by odd behavior and language but who are not psychotic or 
schizophrenic ? offers the first neurological evidence that they are more 
creative than either normal or fully schizophrenic individuals, and rely more 
heavily on the right sides of their brains than the general population to 
access their creativity.

The work by Vanderbilt psychologists Brad Folley and Sohee Park was published 
online last week by the journal Schizophrenia Research.

"The idea that schizotypes have enhanced creativity has been out there for a 
long time but no one has investigated the behavioral manifestations and their 
neural correlates experimentally," 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 

Folley and Park conducted two experiments to compare the creative thinking 
processes of schizotypes, schizophrenics and normal control subjects. In the 
first experiment, the researchers showed research subjects a variety of 
household objects and asked them to make up new functions for them. The results 
showed that the schizotypes were better able to creatively suggest new uses 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 
observes. "Schizotypes, on the other hand, are free from the severe, 
debilitating symptoms surrounding schizophrenia and also have an enhanced 
creative ability." Courtesy of Park Lab As a way to measure their creativity, 
research subjects were shown a variety of everyday objects, such as a spool of 
thread and a fork, as well as more ambiguous objects, such as a cocktail jigger 
and cheese grater, and then were asked to make up new functions for them.

In the second experiment, the three groups again were asked to identify 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 brain 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 a 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," Folley says. "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." Courtesy of Park Lab This diagram outlines how the 
divergent thinking task was carried out. The subjects were first shown a target 
object. They were then asked to identify other objects, also shown on the 
screen, that were similar in color to the target by pressing the numbers on a 
keyboard that corresponded to the objects. The subjects were then asked to 
identify which of the other objects could be "used" with the target by pressing 
the appropriate keys. At the end of the sequence, the participants were asked 
to verbally explain their responses to the researcher to verify their decision 
making during the "uses" phase of the experiment. The color-matching task 
served as a control to help the researchers distinguish between times when the 
subjects were simply putting the objects in categories and when they were 
actually devising new uses for them.

The researchers believe that the results offer support for the idea that 
schizotypes and other psychoses-prone populations draw on 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.

In support of this theory, Folley points to research by Swiss neuroscientist 
Peter Brugger who found that everyday associations, such as recognizing the car 
key on your keychain, and verbal abilities are controlled by the left 
hemisphere while novel associations, such as finding a new use for a object or 
navigating a new place, are controlled by the right hemisphere.

Brugger hypothesized that schizotypes should make novel associations faster 
because they are better at accessing both hemispheres ? a prediction that was 
verified in a subsequent study. His theory can also explain research which 
shows that a disproportional number of schizotypes and schizophrenics are 
neither right nor left hand dominant, but instead 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.

Folley, who is in the process of completing his dissertation at Vanderbilt, is 
currently pursuing a clinical internship and research at the University of 
California Los Angeles. Park is an associate professor of psychology and an 
investigator in the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human 

The work was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health 
and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

"Verbal creativity and schizotypal personality in relation to prefrontal 
hemispheric laterality: A behavioral and near-infrared optical imaging study" 
Schizophrenia Research

(subscription required)

Sohee Park?s home page

Brad Folley?s home page http://www.psy.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/sohee/brad.htm

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