Is psychopathology elevated in Big-C visual artists and scientists?

J Abnorm Psychol. 2019 May;128(4):273-283. doi: 10.1037/abn0000416. Epub 2019 Apr 15.


The idea that psychopathology is associated with exceptional creativity has persisted despite a paucity of corroborating or disconfirming evidence. The authors measured psychopathology, including schizotypal personality traits, social responsiveness/autism spectrum traits, and lifetime incidence of mental disorders, along with lab-based tests of creativity in a unique sample of Big-C (exceptionally creative) individuals. The authors examined Big-C visual artists (VIS; n = 35), Big-C scientists (SCI; n = 41), and a smart comparison group (SCG; n = 31) matched on age, sex, race/ethnicity, parental education, and estimated IQ. Neither lifetime nor current prevalence of mental disorders was higher in Big-C groups relative to either the SCG or epidemiologic estimates, but individuals without a lifetime history of psychiatric disorder scored higher on a test of creative cognition relative to those who had at least one lifetime diagnosis. The groups differed in self-reported symptoms: VIS reported more schizotypal features than both SCI and SCG, and higher levels of socially divergent traits than SCI. Self-reported symptoms were below diagnostic thresholds in all 3 groups. The findings indicate that neither exceptional creativity nor performance on tests that putatively assess creativity are associated with mental illness but suggest that certain schizotypal features and socially divergent traits-at subclinical levels-are associated with Big-C achievement, at least in visual artists. The findings further raise questions about the sensitivity of laboratory tests for Big-C cognition. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Adult
  • Art*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / epidemiology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology
  • Creativity*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Reference Values
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder / diagnosis
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder / epidemiology
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Science*
  • Social Adjustment
  • Young Adult