Genetic Variants Link Higher Bipolar, Schizophrenia Risk to Creative People

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For hundreds of years, it has been observed that people who are in creative professions, such as artists and musicians, are more prone to mental illness. And a new study has found that people who bear creative skills are more likely to carry genetic variants that increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London examined genetic risk scores in a sample of more than 86,000 people from Iceland along with researchers from deCODE genetics, an Icelandic company that analyzes the human genome.

They found genetic variants that doubled the average risk of schizophrenia and increased the risk of bipolar disorder by more than one-third. But when they looked at people who were members of arts societies, such as dancers, writers and artists, that group was 17% more likely to have a genetic vulnerability to schizophrenia and bipolar disorders than non-members of those kinds of groups, they reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The researchers then compared their results to large medical databases in the Netherlands and Sweden. In the 35,000 people examined, those who were classified as creative were almost 25% more likely to carry genetic variants linked to mental illness.  

“Our findings suggest that creative people may have a genetic predisposition towards thinking differently which, when combined with other harmful biological or environmental factors, could lead to mental illness,” Robert Power, PhD, of the IoPPN and the study’s lead author said in a statement.

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Creative people are more likely to carry genetic variants predisposing them schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

In a large study published on Monday, scientists in Iceland report that genetic factors that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are found more often in people in creative professions. Painters, musicians, writers and dancers were, on average, 25% more likely to carry the gene variants than professions the scientists judged to be less creative, among which were farmers, manual laborers and salespeople.

The scientists drew on genetic and medical information from 86,000 Icelanders to find genetic variants that doubled the average risk of schizophrenia, and raised the risk of bipolar disorder by more than a third. When they looked at how common these variants were in members of national arts societies, they found a 17% increase compared with non-members.

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