PBS series on neuroscience: Janelia, schizophrenia, creativity

PBS had three segments on neuroscience during the last week. They were:

– What studying fruit flies and zebrafish can reveal about the human brain

– Pinpointing genetic links to schizophrenia may open doors to better treatment

– Connecting strength and vulnerability of the creative brain

The first one (on Janelia!) was especially nice, and it’s always nice to see a recognition of invertebrate neurobiology.

The series also had an article on creativity published in The Atlantic:

As I began interviewing my subjects, I soon realized that I would not be confirming my schizophrenia hypothesis. If I had paid more attention to Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell, who both suffered from what we today call mood disorder, and less to James Joyce and Bertrand Russell, I might have foreseen this. One after another, my writer subjects came to my office and spent three or four hours pouring out the stories of their struggles with mood disorder—mostly depression, but occasionally bipolar disorder. A full 80 percent of them had had some kind of mood disturbance at some time in their lives, compared with just 30 percent of the control group—only slightly less than an age-matched group in the general population. (At first I had been surprised that nearly all the writers I approached would so eagerly agree to participate in a study with a young and unknown assistant professor—but I quickly came to understand why they were so interested in talking to a psychiatrist.)

So far, this study—which has examined 13 creative geniuses and 13 controls—has borne out a link between mental illness and creativity similar to the one I found in my Writers’ Workshop study. The creative subjects and their relatives have a higher rate of mental illness than the controls and their relatives do (though not as high a rate as I found in the first study), with the frequency being fairly even across the artists and the scientists. The most-common diagnoses include bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety or panic disorder, and alcoholism.

As in the first study, I’ve also found that creativity tends to run in families, and to take diverse forms. In this arena, nurture clearly plays a strong role. Half the subjects come from very high-achieving backgrounds, with at least one parent who has a doctoral degree. The majority grew up in an environment where learning and education were highly valued.

They also found that the ‘more creative’ are more likely to take risks, have higher activation in ‘association cortices’, and be more persistent in the face of rejection. There are some issues with the article but it’s still a nice read.

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One thought on “PBS series on neuroscience: Janelia, schizophrenia, creativity

  1. Do you happen to know the name of the female doctor interviewed on the PBS segment concerning family-linked creativity? I would like to contact her. Thank you

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