Monday, October 01, 2007

When I Say That I'm Crazy About Music, This Isn't What I Had in Mind

"One thin line draws the border between madness and the genius."
--Ambrosia, "Harvey" (written by Joe Puerta)

A recent study by some American and Canadian psychologists has found a link between creativity and mental illness:
The study in the September issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says the brains of creative people appear to be more open to incoming stimuli from the surrounding environment. Other people's brains might shut out this same information through a process called "latent inhibition" - defined as an animal's unconscious capacity to ignore stimuli that experience has shown are irrelevant to its needs. Through psychological testing, the researchers showed that creative individuals are much more likely to have low levels of latent inhibition.

"This means that creative individuals remain in contact with the extra information constantly streaming in from the environment," says co-author and U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson. "The normal person classifies an object, and then forgets about it, even though that object is much more complex and interesting than he or she thinks. The creative person, by contrast, is always open to new possibilities."

Previously, scientists have associated failure to screen out stimuli with psychosis. However, Peterson and his co-researchers - lead author and psychology lecturer Shelley Carson of Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard PhD candidate Daniel Higgins - hypothesized that it might also contribute to original thinking, especially when combined with high IQ.

[...]"Scientists have wondered for a long time why madness and creativity seem linked," says Carson. "It appears likely that low levels of latent inhibition and exceptional flexibility in thought might predispose to mental illness under some conditions and to creative accomplishment under others."
Read the whole thing. This new information certainly goes a long way towards explaining the occasional eccentricity (if not outright madness) found throughout history among the artistically-inclined. It's interesting to think that perhaps some of us creative types really could have gone one of two ways with what we've been given, and I for one am glad to be on the "good side" (and I hope my readers agree!).

A legend hangs up the mic: Hats off to Leigh Kamman, host of a longtime jazz show on Minnesota Public Radio, who's retiring after 65 years on the air. Check out some of his "brush with greatness" stories at the link. (Hat tip: Lileks, at is the case for most of my Minnesota-based stories.)

Heartwarming story of the day: A woman on a Phoenix-San Antonio flight gave her first-class seat to a soldier on board simply "because he deserves it."

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