dijous, 23 d’agost de 2012

Bipolar disorder and creativity found to be linked

Does some fine madness yield great artists, writers, and scientists? The evidence is growing for a significant link between bipolar disorder and creative temperament and achievement.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012 // Machines Like Us // by Claudia Slegers

Does some fine madness yield great artists, writers, and scientists? The evidence is growing for a significant link between bipolar disorder and creative temperament and achievement.

People with bipolar disorder swing repeatedly from depression to euphoria and hyperactivity, or intensely irritable mood states. Sometimes likened to being on an emotional rollercoaster, each swing up then down affects one’s behaviour, energy levels, thought patterns and sleep.

Also known as manic-depressive illness, bipolar disorder is strongly genetically linked, passing down through each generation of an affected family. It is fairly common and very treatable with modern medicines and psychotherapy.

A seminal work in the field is Kay Redfield Jamison’s 1993 book Touched with Fire: Manic-depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. The American psychologist combined current diagnostic criteria with biographical data, diaries, family trees and other historical information, to closely examine the lives of a sample of major 18th century British poets born between the years 1705 and 1805.

Jamison found a rate of bipolar disorder 30 times greater in these poets than is present in the general population. Jamison’s work also found that the periods psychiatrists call hypomania – mild but not full-blown mania – can also involve heightened creative thinking and expansiveness, high mental speed, cognitive flexibility, and ability to make original connections between otherwise disparate ideas, all elements underlying creativity.

Other studies by Jamison – as published here and here – established that a number of speech components occur in individuals when hypomanic: they are more likely to use alliteration, to rhyme, to use idiosyncratic words, and engage in a playful use of language.

When given drills, they can list synonyms or form word associations more rapidly than control groups. And so they rate highly on tests of creativity. Jamison’s 1989 study of 47 eminent British writers and artists – selected on the basis of their having won at least one of several major prestigious prizes or awards in their fields – found 38% of this group had been treated for a mood disorder, a category that includes depression as well as bipolar disorder.

Recent, large-scale studies provide additional scientific support to Jamison’s work. A whole-population cohort study of all individuals in the Swedish national school register showed that those who demonstrated excellent school performances were nearly four times as likely to develop bipolar disorder as those who exhibited only average performance.

Excellence in language or music was particularly correlated with an increased risk for developing bipolar disorder. Other recent large-scale studies have addressed a different pattern of association – one between creative occupation and mental illness.

These studies found a clear over-representation of people with bipolar disorder (and their healthy siblings) in the most creative occupational categories, which included artists, musicians, writers and scientists.

While large, population-based studies provide us with the scientific rigour to test the link between bipolar disorder and creativity, some of the more interesting studies have involved smaller-scale, reflexive approaches.

Here, writers and artists with personal experience of bipolar disorder have reflected on their own and their peers’ creative processes, exploring how their mood states interact with their productivity.

In 2010, Stephanie Stone Horton reflexively traced her own and her colleagues’ writing creativity and dysfunction as early career writers with bipolar disorder or depression.

Horton described how hypomanic moods often facilitate writing periods characterised by fluency, flair and persuasive power, whereas the periods of mild depression or euthymia (even moods between the extremes) may be better used for the editing and proofing.

Olivia Sagan explored the experiences of mentally ill, developing artists through longitudinal biographical interviews conducted with art students at two university sites.

Narratives involved complex stories in which participants considered their illness to be part of themselves, albeit one that they needed to “manage."

One of the details of the narratives was the hypervigilance of health and ill-health on a continuum which at times threatened to jeopardise the dearly won achievement of becoming an art student. Here, participants often talked about the potentially productive, but also potentially destabalising, role of hypomanic moods.

Let’s be clear. To argue for a link between bipolar disorder and creative achievement is not to argue that all, or even most, artists and writers automatically have a mental illness: indeed, most do not. To make such simplistic generalisations can reinforce the idea of the “mad genius” and trivialise a serious medical condition that can end in suicide.

Yet the evidence to date suggests that a high number of artists and writers, far more than could be expected by chance, meet the diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder.

What are the implications for treatment? First line medication for bipolar disorder, lithium, can cause cognitive dulling and slowing, and limit emotional and perceptual range for some individuals. This is especially significant for those working in creative fields such as artists and writers, who draw on their emotions for creating their work.

It is not surprising then that some artists and writers with bipolar disorder choose not to take medications. But unless an individual has a mild expression of bipolar disorder, the consequences of the condition (suicide, for example) nearly always argue for active treatment.

More research is need to understand not only how mood experiences interact with creative processes and artistic production, but to learn how mood episodes shape decisions about whether or not to accept treatment and if so, the treatment choices.

We also need to learn more about how people with bipolar disorder can best be supported to make the most of their lives, with the highest degree of satisfaction in their achievements.

Society benefits from the achievements of its talented writers, artists, and scientists with mental illness, yet those affected don’t always judge their moments of brilliance to be worth the accompanying pain and distress, and don’t always place their personal wellbeing and adherence to taking medication ahead of the potential to express their creativity.

Source: http://machineslikeus.com/news/bipolar-disorder-and-creativity-found-be-linked

Listening to Complainers Is Bad for Your Brain

Exposure to nonstop negativity actually impairs brain function. Here's how to defend yourself

Aug 20, 2012 // Minda Zetlin // http://www.inc.com/

Do you hate it when people complain? It turns out there's a good reason: Listening to too much complaining is bad for your brain in multiple ways, according to Trevor Blake, a serial entrepreneur and author of Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life. In the book, he describes how neuroscientists have learned to measure brain activity when faced with various stimuli, including a long gripe session.

"The brain works more like a muscle than we thought," Blake says. "So if you're pinned in a corner for too long listening to someone being negative, you're more likely to behave that way as well."

Even worse, being exposed to too much complaining can actually make you dumb. Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity--including viewing such material on TV--actually peels away neurons in the brain's hippocampus. "That's the part of your brain you need for problem solving," he says. "Basically, it turns your brain to mush."

But if you're running a company, don't you need to hear about anything that may have gone wrong? "There's a big difference between bringing your attention to something that's awry and a complaint," Blake says. "Typically, people who are complaining don't want a solution; they just want you to join in the indignity of the whole thing. You can almost hear brains clink when six people get together and start saying, 'Isn't it terrible?' This will damage your brain even if you're just passively listening. And if you try to change their behavior, you'll become the target of the complaint."

So, how do you defend yourself and your brain from all the negativity? Blake recommends the following tactics:

1. Get some distance

"My father was a chain smoker," Blake confides. "I tried to change his habit, but it's not easy to do that." Blake knew secondhand smoke could damage his own lungs as well. "My only recourse was to distance myself."

You should look at complaining the same way, he says. "The approach I've always taken with complaining is to think of it as the same as passive smoking." Your brain will thank you if you get yourself away from the complainer, if you can.

2. Ask the complainer to fix the problem

Sometimes getting distance isn't an option. If you can't easily walk away, a second strategy is to ask the complainer to fix the problem.

"Try to get the person who's complaining to take responsibility for a solution," Blake says. "I typically respond to a complaint with, 'What are you going to do about it?'" Many complainers walk away huffily at that point, because he hasn't given them what they wanted, Blake reports. But some may actually try to solve the problem.

3. Shields up!

When you're trapped listening to a complaint, you can use mental techniques to block out the griping and save your neurons. Blake favors one used by the late Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros during a match against Jack Nicklaus--a match the crowd wanted Ballesteros to lose. "He was having difficulty handling the hostility of the crowd," Blake says. "So he imagined a bell jar that no one could see descending from the sky to protect him."

Major League Baseball pitchers can sometimes be seen mouthing "Shields on!" as they stride to the mound, he says. He adds that his own imaginary defense is "more like a Harry Potter invisibility cloak."

A related strategy is to mentally retreat to your imagined favorite spot, someplace you'd go if you could wave a magic wand. "For me, it was a ribbon of beautiful white sugary sand that extended out in a horseshoe shape from a private island," Blake says. "I would take myself to my private retreat while people were ranting and raving. I could smile at them and nod in all the right places and meanwhile take myself for a walk on my private beach."

Blake first saw the picture of the island in a magazine, and the image stuck with him. Eventually, he got a chance to try it for real. "It turned out the island was for rent, and it was the same one I'd seen," he says. "So I rented it for a week. And I got to take that walk."

Source: http://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/listening-to-complainers-is-bad-for-your-brain.html