September 06, 2005

Creativity linked to Schizotypy

A quirky or socially awkward approach to life might be the key to becoming a great artist, composer or inventor.

New research in individuals with schizotypal personalities-people characterized by odd behavior and language but who are not psychotic or schizophrenic-offers the first 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.

The work by Vanderbilt psychologists Brad Folley and Sohee Park was published online Aug. 26 by the journal Schizophrenia Research.

Psychologists believe famous creative luminaries, including Vincent Van Gogh, Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson and Isaac Newton, had schizotypal personalities. (Albert Einstein's son had full-blown schizophrenia).

“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 said. “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.”

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 said. “Schizotypes, on the other hand, are free from the severe, debilitating symptoms surrounding schizophrenia and also have an enhanced creative ability.”

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 said. “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.”

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 pointed to research by Swiss neuroscientist Peter Brugger who found that everyday associations, such as recognizing your car key on your keychain, and verbal abilities are controlled by the left hemisphere, and that 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 are better at accessing both hemispheres for novel associations, enabling them to make these associations faster. His theory is supported by research showing 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 this increased communication between the hemispheres actually could provide added creativity,” Folley said.

Folley is in the process of completing his dissertation at Vanderbilt and 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 Development.

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

A multimedia version of this story is available at For more Vanderbilt news, visit

Source: Vanderbilt University


How can I find more of ur study of schizotypy and creativity?

Posted by: C. Hatchett at October 11, 2005 09:29 AM

Hi I am currently researching for my dissertation. The subject is the effectiveness of art(all art forms) in helping people with mental illness come to terms and cope with their illness. Not just professionally supervised Art Therepy, but self help through art also. If anyone could contact me and explain how(if indeed) art helps you on a personal level in regards to your own illness I would be vry grateful. Thankyou for your time. Shaun

Posted by: Shaun at January 20, 2007 07:37 AM

I have some ideas. How do I contact you?

Posted by: Rosemary at March 18, 2007 08:27 PM

I agree. I have been diagnosed with bipolar type 1 and been admited to a psych-ward. I have seen first hand that people with mental illness..especially that of bipolar illness are generally more creative and conducive to new ideas and ways of thinking.

I have been psychotic...It seems wild, new and excitingly full of new ways of creative thinking but really is not at all. This just leaves me disorganized and unsatisfied. Personally I feel most creative and productive when im on medication or at least not psychotic. Bytheway I pride my life on being, playing or writing music of all kinds and all instruments. The point is I agree with this idea of controled craziness so to speak as an asset to enhanced creativity.

Thanks abunch.

Posted by: sean at May 5, 2007 02:07 AM

I am schizotypal. I am wildly creative (though critics call me 'wildly delusional'), and since i know the difference between my 'odd ideas' and consensual reality, my insanity is ok. twenty five years ago i read 'the bicameral critic', colin wilson in the sixties telling us how to do experiments on the left and right brain. been doing 'em all my life. now i use my left brain as an imitation right brain, with a pseudo-personality, (though i can't do any math when running this 'higher' personality) and this higher personality contains the lower, damaged, 2 year old right brain personality. that's how i talk to the demons in the demon world, i use my two-year old emotionally stunted right brain. maybe all two year olds can do what i do, talk to the spirits. i tell people i put the space suit on backwards, 'cause i don't wanna see. and the spacesuit is my body, so if you take it off, you see another of me, but pointed the other way. right brain for left and left for right.

Posted by: Charlie Messemer at July 11, 2007 03:34 PM

Hm. I think you are right here, about shitzotypy being linked with creativity . . . and about using both hemispheres of the brain. I consider myself highly imaginative yet when I take psychological tests I come out as balance-brained. If you would like a volunteer to participate in any online experiments I would be willing to help.

Posted by: M at July 14, 2007 04:13 PM

I need help. I need serious help. I’m a 32 year old bipolar man who has no direction and no expectation of ever being happy in a career. I have bounced around from job to job since graduation from a prestigious engineering school – being fired by most. Most of these jobs lasted for less than a year and after a year of employment with my current company, I find myself in another bad situation.

I grew up the son of a Naval officer and moved up and down the east coast during my formative years. I was constantly trying to make new friends and always felt like the outsider that I was. My struggles with friendships all too frequently led to depression. I developed my personality, I believe, to try and fit in wherever I was. Even though I never really got to know him until I was 8 or 9 because he was out as sea, I really looked up to my father and wanted to be a fighter pilot just like he was; that was the only thing that kept me going. With my dad out of the picture most of the time, my mother and I developed a very strong bond that is still a tremendous asset in my life. She is a strong Southern woman who is very proper and conservative, which fit in well with my dad’s profession. Growing up, things were right or wrong, black or white. This led me to be a rigid, very logical person; but a very good person. There was never a shortage of love or encouragement and there still isn’t to this day. I love my parents very much.

The problem was that I needed glasses in the 9th grade, so that pretty much killed the pilot dream I had my whole life and left me with no idea what to do with myself. A few months later, I was hospitalized after planning a violent school situation followed by suicide. After I got out, I continued therapy and tried my best to make my life better. I thought about a lot of careers, but figured that since I was pretty good at math and science that engineering was the way to go – plus, and more importantly, I loved the attention and admiration I received when I told people that I was going to be an engineer. High school was very tough for me socially, as expected, and I was hospitalized again in my senior year for planning another suicide attempt but this time, I had the pills in my hand right before the police took me in to custody.

I was accepted to engineering school and during my 5 years there, I made few friends, and was heavy in to drugs on a consistent basis. Alcohol and pot were/are my drugs of choice – unless you gave me an unlimited amount of money for coke and ecstasy. I saw a therapist on and off during college but wasn’t diagnosed as bipolar until 4 years ago.

I believe that my childhood environment, my logical thinking, and my disorder have led me to where I am today – miserable. I believe that I am a predominantly right-brained person conditioned to be a left-brained person and my quality of life because of this is typically low – almost a “trans-brained” person, to use a hip word. I love to sing (I recorded the song my wife and I danced to in a studio before the wedding and surprised her with it), I love taking pictures while backpacking/hiking/skiing in the mountains, I write poetry, play piano by ear, and love to fish. But I also enjoy solving an engineering problem and being structured most of the time as well but hate being at a desk all day. I am not a very good engineer because I can’t concentrate long enough to study/learn my profession and since I almost flunked out of engineering school, I am weak on fundamentals, which is a killer in the engineering field. I just don’t know what to do anymore – I have no idea what I really, really want to do because I feel I have failed at everything I tried. I really don’t know why I am writing this but I hope that someone out there has some insight – any insight – to my problem. If you read this far, thanks for listening.

Posted by: Todd at December 16, 2007 01:21 AM

Wow, Todd. Very well written. Fascinating self-analysis. However, you didn't say whether or not you are *actively* getting treatment for bipolar disorder--both medical and psychological. Personally, I really think you need to do both, but this may mean that you'll need to find therapist(s) that 'work' for you. And insurance or free health care? Good Luck!

Posted by: MAA at December 16, 2007 07:56 PM

i think creative is all in the cells people say im schizotypal but maybe this is my reality dont need help. but if you think youre creative you arent if you dont you are i dont know what i think but is battle between soul and mind cofidence bad soul good mind bad

Posted by: catrick at January 6, 2008 12:26 AM

As a daughter of a confirmed schizophrenic, I find that my brother and I both have extreme creative and visual spatial capabilities that are well outside the normal range. I also notice that while both he and I are left-handed, we each perform a number of tasks with our right hands - and that my own level of ambidextry is increasing as I age. I am compelled to believe that the reason both he and I are so unusally imaginative is related to our father's disorder. If anyone would be able to provide further literature recommendations on this subject (schizophrenia and the creative mind, on being right-brained), I'd greatly appreciate it. Kate

Posted by: Kate at June 2, 2008 09:52 AM

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