A recent paper in Perspectives on Psychological Science by creativity scholar Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California at Davis looked into that whole, ever-persistent idea of the “mad genius,” or the artist who is so inspired and brilliant that he can’t help but be totally nutso. Many scientists fall on either side of the battle: some say, yes all creative people are bonkers, while others say, mental illness and creativity are utterly unrelated.
But, according to Simonton’s study, it’s quite possible that both camps are correct. Hence the concept of the “mad genius paradox.”
Eric Jaffe of Fast Company breaks it down like this:
First, let’s separate the world into two groups: creative people and non-creative people. Assume that, on the whole, the creative people have lower rates of psychopathology than non-creative people. So, when looking at the world through this creative-or-not lens, we find that creativity is closely connected with mental health.
Now let’s take the creative people from our first example and separate them into two new groups: creative geniuses and creative Joes (our term, not Simonton’s). There’s only a sprinkling of creative geniuses, but assume they suffer higher rates of psychopathology than the creative Joes do. So, when looking at the world through this lens, we find that extreme creativity is closely connected with mental illness.
So basically, it all depends on how you divide the creative lab rats research subjects and how you perceive multiple levels of creativity. Are all creative people created creatively equal? Nope. Using Jaffe’s terms: we’ve got creative geniuses and creative joes, and these two groups are not the same. So if mental illness strikes the creative joe, does that suddenly make him a creative genius? If the creative genius is saner than sane, is he no longer a genius? If you compare a creative joe to a creative no, does the joe take on the genius role? And what if you compare the genius to the no? What is a genius anyway?
Head over to Fast Company to see more, super fun data about this concept and please share your thoughts below.
[Source: Fast Company]