Wednesday, November 22, 2006

TO READ: The Creativity-Depression Link: Rumination
Science, as well as centuries of popular observation, has shown that there is a strong relationship between mood disorders and creativity. Artists, writers, musicians and scientists all have higher than usual rates of depression, for example. But why? Does depression lead somehow to creativity? Or are creative pursuits somehow depressing? Research now shows that there may be no direct link between the two. Rather, their connection may be the tendency to ruminate.

In the 1990s, one overview of research studies on creativity and depression concluded that major depression in writers and artists is 8-10 times higher than in the general population. Another study found that people working in the creative arts had a lifetime prevalence of depression of 50%, while scientists came in at 24%, and the general public had a rate of 9%. In particular, poets had a depression rate of 77%; fiction writers, 59%; and visual artists, 50%.

More recently, researchers at Syracuse University and Stanford University found evidence that the strong relationship between mood disorder and creative behavior is rumination -- having conscious thoughts about a particular topic that recur whenever the person is not facing immediate outside demands. This tendency to self-reflection increases the risk for depression, and it also triggers interest in and ability for creative activities.

The results suggest that depressed people, who tend to be ruminators, may turn to creative pursuits when they are feeling better in order to express their feelings and the content of that self-reflective thought. Also, rumination may allow the depressed individual to later generate more ideas, some of which are original and can be pursued -- though of course, the possibility of having repetitive negative thoughts about oneself is higher too.

From: Verhaeghen, et al. (2005). Why we sing the blues: The relation between self-reflective rumination, mood, and creativity. Emotion, 5, 226-232.

1 comment:

JWS said...

This seems to support the potential for treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy may be effective for a broad range of depression. I wonder if your reading or experience supports this.