Creativity and Psychopathology

Gamboling at the Seat of Madness
  • Robert Prentky
Part of the Perspectives on Individual Differences book series (PIDF)


This chapter addresses a topic that has been the subject of intense curiosity throughout civilized history. What are the roots of genius? Are geniuses divinely inspired? Are they mad? What is the nature of their gift? Is it something that can be cultivated? Or perhaps harnessed like a beast of draught? Do geniuses possess a genetic loading for their gift? If the germ of inspiration has a biological component, it would seem that the cornerstone of the creative process remains inaccessible to most of us. If this is the case, it poses an interesting dilemma: Why should a feature of human behavior so critical to the advancement of the species be restricted to so small a segment of the species? After more than 2,500 years of curiosity, we can conclude very little that is definitive. We cannot state with certainty that some genetic contribution enhances creative potential. We cannot state with certainty that creativity can be encouraged, though we undoubtedly can state how it may be discouraged. Despite reams of stories, some farfetched and some true, relating creativity to mental illness, the idea that one must be slightly mad to be creative is so counterintuitive that it is rejected by most sober-minded scientists. And rightfully so. It certainly would not be evolutionarily adaptive to wed the curse of mental illness to the gift of creativity. This dilemma was raised by Barron (1958):

But one cannot readily abandon the idea that to create is in some sense—perhaps in the best sense—to be healthy in mind. Yet how can the maladjustment of many great creative minds be reconciled with the assertion that they are in some respects unusually healthy? (p. 163)

Barron determined, however, that the seeming illogic of associating maladjustment with creativity can be understood from the standpoint of the source of creative inspiration—the unconscious. The creative person is said to be at higher risk for disorder by virtue of gamboling at the seat of disorder.


Mental Illness Cognitive Style Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Divergent Thinking Creative Individual 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Prentky
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Research DepartmentThe Massachusetts Treatment CenterBridgewaterUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryBoston University School of MedicineBostonUSA

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