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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Link Between Schizophrenia and Genius

Q. I am a medical student at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and am currently researching the topic of schizophrenia. Is there any connection between the brain of a schizophrenic and genius?

A. Notwithstanding the popularity of the movie, "A Beautiful Mind", I am not aware of any well-supported research showing a link between schizophrenia and genius--if by that, you mean, an IQ above 130.

On the contrary: we are increasingly seeing schizophrenia as a neurodevelopmental disorder that usually leads to impairment, of varying degrees, in several cognitive and intellectual domains. Indeed, the work of Remschmidt and others (see J Neural Transm 2002;109(1):101-17) suggests that at least the early-onset form of schizophrenia is a progressive, deteriorating developmental disorder. This is supported by brain morphological studies and intelligence testing as well as investigations of the course of the illness.

Gilvarry et al (Psychiatry Res 2001 Mar 25;101(2):89-100) also find evidence of cognitive deficits in the non-affected relatives of those with schizophrenia. All that said, Buck and Kramer (Psychiatry 1977 May;40(2):146-62) have written on the creative potential and artistic talents of a subgroup of schizophrenic patients.

In his classic book, Interpretation of Schizophrenia (1974), the late Silvano Arieti describes many instances of creative, if eccentric, work by those with schizophrenia. I have certainly seen some patients with this illness whom I would describe as brilliant--but I believe this was despite, not because of, their schizophrenic illness.

I suspect you would be on firmer ground in discussing the evident link between creativity and bipolar disorder, as psychologist Kay R. Jamison has shown in her book, "Touched by Fire". In any case, good luck with your research.

March 2003

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