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Mind & Brain

Creative people have a 90% higher chance of being diagnosed with schizophrenia

Being creative gives you a natural predisposition to schizophrenia, according to a massive new study by the British Journal of Psychiatry.
(Photo: stevendepolo/Flickr)

Being creative gives you a natural predisposition to schizophrenia, according to a massive new study by The British Journal of Psychiatry. And why is it massive, I hear you asking your computer or cell phone screens? Well, dear reader, usually the sample size on these kinds of studies is only a few hundred people. What’s different about this one is the sample size is the entire country of Sweden… about 4.5 million people.  

The correlation comes from looking at the college degrees of those in the study. Those with artistic degrees—such as acting, creative writing, performing arts, etc—had a 90% higher chance than their regular-folk counterparts of being hospitalized with schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder.

Does this mean that 9 out of 10 creative people have schizophrenia? No. Many, many different facts have to be taken into the equation here: using someone’s degree as a bell-weather for schizophrenia isn’t scientifically accurate as there are many creative people who don’t pursue art degrees and thus don’t show up in the results. Nor does pursuing an art degree cause schizophrenia (which would be an easy, but extremely wrong, way to read the results of the study). What the study does say, more or less, is that there was a 90% higher chance that those with schizophrenia also had pursued an art degree. Creativity does not cause schizophrenia, although the two have been linked in several studies.  

It’s a slippery slope to turning this study into an “x causes y” scenario, but we at Big Think have talked before about the dangers of conflating correlation with causation. Although the numbers don’t lie in this study, this shouldn’t put you off going to college for an art degree, or from going to art school. And speaking from experience, art school kids throw way more interesting parties.

It’s worth mentioning that honest-to-god actual schizophrenia occurs in about 1% of the population, and 1.2% of Americans. People often get schizophrenia confused—thanks to movies and TV—with DID, or Disassociate Identity Disorder, also known as split personality. DID is extremely rare, with only 40,000 or so diagnosed patients according to a 2008 study. 

In any case, keep making art before the rich jock kids take over the planet


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