[Paleopsych] Vanderbilt U.: Odd behavior and creativity may go hand-in-hand
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Mon Sep 19 01:14:57 UTC 2005
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
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"
Sohee Park?s home page
Brad Folley?s home page http://www.psy.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/sohee/brad.htm
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