The Link Between Manic Depression and Creativity
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
FULLER, L. R. (2003). The Link Between Manic Depression and Creativity. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 6. Available online at Retrieved April 30, 2017 .

The Link Between Manic Depression and Creativity
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
The link between creativity and manic-depressive illness was investigated. The data found showed that those with a higher score on a manic-depression scale also came up with more ideas on a creativity test. The results are congruent with current literature on this subject. Two paper and pencil tests were given to participants and their scores were correlated using Pearson r. These results can generalize to most of the general population except those that have never had any college courses. Although this study does show support for the link between creativity and manic-depression it is important to do more studies with different creativity tests that will test more than one aspect of the trait.

The link between manic depression and creativity is not a new one. The term “mad artist” and the connection between genius and insanity have been around for a long time. Thinking back to artists like Vincent van Gough and composers like Robert Schumann, one thinks of great talent, but also very eccentric and ill people. Different mood disorders have been looked at in association with creativity, but the focus here will only be on manic depression, which is also known as bipolar disorder, and its association with creativity. It is important to fully understand manic depression in order to look at its correlation with creativity. Bipolar disorder is a treatable illness that is marked by extreme changes in mood, thought, energy, and behavior. It is known as manic depression because a person’s mood can alternate between the “poles”: mania or highs and depression or lows. Manic-depression is not the same as major depression. Although the low phase is very similar to that of major depression, manic-depression has another, opposite stage, mania (DBSA, 2003). The effects of this disorder are very different in the two different stages. When an individual is in the manic phase, he or she is likely to have increased physical and mental activity, decreased need for sleep without experiencing fatigue, racing speech, thoughts, and flight of ideas, and excessive irritability and aggressive behavior. When an individual is in the depressive stage, he or she is likely to have prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells, loss of energy, inability to concentrate, and feelings of guilt and worthlessness (DBSA, 2003). Identifying the characteristics of a creative individual are a little more difficult, but Roe (1952) first recognized that the need and ability to develop personal independence to a high degree was the most important factor in distinguishing a creative individual. Later, other characteristics were found to be associated with highly creative individuals. MacKinnon used the California Psychological Inventory to identify the following personality traits and behavior characteristics to be associated with creative individuals: nonconformity, autonomy, and open-mindedness. Being creative is not just characterized by what personality traits or behavior characteristics one has though. It also has to do with what kind of works you produce. Whether a person is a writer, composer, or artist with out any output it is hard to tell if he or she is creative. Often the public not only judges creativity, but also quality based on these works. So where is the link between creativity and manic-depressive illness? As it was stated earlier, persons with manic depression go through two phases, mania and depression. Profound changes in mood, thought, personality, and behavior can occur during all phases of the disorder, but probably the most relevant to creativity are the mild manic states known as hypomania. Normal diagnostic criteria for hypomania include elevated mood, increased self-esteem, high energy, decreased need for sleep, increased sexual desire, sharpened and unusually creative thinking, and increased productivity. There is some evidence that expansiveness of thought and improvement of mood, both features of hypomania, can result in an increased fluency and frequency of ideas that are highly related to creative achievement (Jamison, 1993). This could be why manic-depression can lead to higher creativity and higher output of creative works. Even though this idea of a connection between “madness” and creativity is not new it took awhile for the topic to become of interest enough to study. The first scientific inquiries made in the relationship between creativity and mood disorders were done in the 1970’s by Professor Nancy C. Andreasen at the University of Iowa. Using structured interviews and matched control groups she was able to show an extraordinarily high rate of affective illness and alcoholism among creative writers (Jamison, 1997). More studies done in the past twenty years have shown that the rate of manic-depressive illness is 10 to 20% higher in artists than in the general population (Princeton, 2003). This shows that manic-depression therefore occurs far more among artists than is likely just by chance. These same studies have also found that relatives of creative writers are more likely to do creative work and or have experienced a mood disorder, suggesting a possible genetic link to the disease further supporting the link between the disease and creative abilities (Princeton, 2003). Although there is strong evidence to support this link between manic-depression and creativity, there are some criticisms and arguments against this possible link.Despite the strong evidence to support the link between manic-depression and creativity, it should be noted that there are many highly creative, writers, artists, and musicians who have no significant psychopathology. Also most individuals with manic-depressive illness are not unusually creative, but there still is a disproportionate rate of affective illness that exists in highly creative people (Jamison, 1993). Other arguments against the link are that deceased artistic individuals are being diagnosed by biographical descriptions that in some cases may not be enough to say that he or she did have manic-depression (Princeton, 2003). Also people who were famous had more exposure and more was known about their life than ordinary people. Perhaps more people have the disease than are letting on simply because they want to keep their privacy. Even though there are critics, it does not dismiss the fact that there is strong evidence to verify the link between creativity and manic-depressive illness. The purpose of this study is to see if individuals who have the characteristics of manic-depressive illness will have a higher level of creativity than those in the general population.


- The participants for this study were 85 students from two introductory psychology classes from a regional college in northwestern Missouri. The average age of the participants was 21.43. There were 31 males and 51 females and 3 who did not give their sex.

The materials used in this study were two paper and pencil tests. One was a shortened version of the Goldberg mania and depression scale (See Appendix A) and the other was a qualitative test for creativity that involved coming up with unusual uses for common objects. The goal of this test is to come up with as many creative uses for the object in the allotted time (See Appendix B).

Before handing out anything, the researcher explained that she was doing a project for an upper level psychology class. The researcher gave out the creativity test first and the participants were told to not begin until instructed to do so. They were told that they would have three minutes to complete it and to explain any of their responses that they felt needed further explanation. This test consisted of listing as many creative uses for a newspaper as they could think of in the allotted time. They were not told that the researcher was only looking for quantity. As they began the first test, the researcher began to hand out the mania and depression scale. After the three minutes were up, the participants were instructed to start on the second test and then turn the two in together when they had finished. The tests were given out during the last ten minutes of class at the request of the professor. It should be noted that the professor for the two classes has part of the students’ (participants) grade based on participation and that doing these two tests, helped to fill part of that requirement for their grade.

A Pearson correlation coefficient was calculated for the relationship between a participant’s combined mania and depression score, (MD) and number of creative uses for a newspaper. A moderate positive correlation was found (r(85) = .343, p < .01), indicating a significant linear relationship between the two variables. People with higher MD scores tended to have more creative uses for a newspaper.

The results show that in this study, people who had more of the characteristics of manic-depressive illness came up with more creative uses for the newspaper (See Figure 1). The data is congruent with that found in related literature. The results show support for the original hypothesis: Individuals who have the characteristics of manic-depressive illness will have a higher creativity level than those in the general population. This study does show support, but it only measured one small area of creativity. There are many other tests that also could have been used to correlate with the MD scale that more thoroughly describe the trait of creativity. Another limitation of the study was that the data was collected at different times of the day. It is possible that students could be more awake and therefore come up with more ideas later in the day as opposed to in the morning. The results of this study can be generalized to the majority of the population. However only people who were currently attending college were included in the study. The part of the population that has never attended college could not be included here. In the future, it would be interesting to do close to the same study, but not look at quantity of the items for the creativity test, but how they were conveyed and then rate them. The researcher did notice that some people listed the items while others wrote their answers all over the page in a random format. Still, other people drew pictures to help explain their ideas. It would be of some benefit to look at the original creativity test with a different point of view.

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (2003, March). Bipolar disorder. Retrieved March 5, 2003 from University Student Web Project (2003, February). Manic depression and creativity. Retrieved February 24, 2003 from, K. R. (1993). Suicide and manic-depressive illness in artists and writers. National Forum, 73, 28-30.Jamison, K. R. (1997). Manic-depressive illness and creativity. Scientific American, 7, 44-49.Roe, A. (1952). A psychological study of 64 eminent scientists. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 43, 121-235.Bipolar Disorder; Complete Digest of Information. Goldberg Depression Scale; Goldberg Mania Scale. Retrieved February 24, 2003 from


DIRECTIONS: The following items below refer to how you have felt and behaved DURING THE LAST WEEK. For each item, indicate the extent, to which it is true, by circling one of the numbers that follows it using the following scale:0=Not at all 1=Just a little 2=Somewhat 3=Moderately 4=Quite a lot 5=Very Much

1. My future seems hopeless. 0 1 2 3 4 52. I have difficulty making decisions. 0 1 2 3 4 53. I have lost interest in aspects of my life that used to be important to me. 0 1 2 3 4 54. I have more new ideas than I can handle. 0 1 2 3 4 55. I feel fatigued. 0 1 2 3 4 56. It takes great effort to do simple things. 0 1 2 3 4 57. I have been full of energy. 0 1 2 3 4 58. I have been spending too much money. 0 1 2 3 4 59. I feel like a failure. 0 1 2 3 4 510. I need less sleep than usual. 0 1 2 3 4 511. I have been more active than usual. 0 1 2 3 4 512. It is hard for me to concentrate on reading. 0 1 2 3 4 513. I am agitated and keep moving around. 0 1 2 3 4 514. My attention keeps jumping from one idea to another. 0 1 2 3 4 515. I find it hard to slow down and stay in one place. 0 1 2 3 4 5

DIRECTIONS: Think of as many creative uses as you can for a newspaper. This activity will be timed so please don’t start until you are instructed to do so. And please keep working until you are told to stop. Please list your ideas below.

Creative uses for a newspaper:

Submitted 4/22/2003 1:21:28 PM
Last Edited 4/22/2003 8:41:33 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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