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Book Forum: GOOD AND EVIL   |    
Eminent Creativity, Everyday Creativity, and Health
ALISSA HIRSHFELD-FLORES, M.A., M.F.C.C.; JOSEPH J. SCHILDKRAUT, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 1999;156:2012-2013.
View Author and Article Information
San Rafael, Calif.
Boston, Mass.

edited by Mark A. Runco, Ruth Richards. Greenwich, Conn., Ablex, 1997, 560$82.50; $49.50 (paper).

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This book is a representative sample of cutting-edge recent research exploring the creativity-health interface from a multitude of angles—psychological, biological, neurological, sociological, and political. This volume, which contains more than 30 chapters, is an extremely ambitious attempt by two eminent scholars in the field—Mark Runco and Ruth Richards—to integrate the different approaches to the study of creativity, a field in which interest has been steadily growing over the past decade. For its breadth and synthesis of divergent approaches, it is commendable and exemplifies the very creativity it celebrates. In fact, the variety of articles is meant to stimulate creative thinking in the reader. The range of methodologies among the contributing authors is similarly diverse: interviews, experimental manipulations, correlations, and projective tests, as well as archival, historiometric, psychometric, and biographical research.

Although much of this research has been previously published in the Creativity Research Journal or elsewhere, because of the broad spectrum of studies brought together in this one volume, it is an excellent reference book. Perhaps only a specialist in the area would read it cover to cover, but it is a great contribution to a variety of fields—mental health, social science, education, public policy—concerned with the study and enhancement of creativity in individuals and society. The technical language of many papers may discourage the lay reader, and it would have been helpful for people new to the field to have brief biographies of contributors. However, in the final essay, which links together the many threads of inquiry, Richards sounds an impassioned plea to all of us, which takes the discussion beyond the academic. She argues for the necessity of supporting what she calls a "conscious evolution" by encouraging creativity in educational institutions and working to make society more open-minded so that we might be in a better position to address global and environmental disasters.

The editors’ overall introduction to this volume and the introductions to each of the book’s five sections are all very helpful in organizing and providing bridges between the papers, as is Richards’ concluding essay. In fact, readers may want to read the concluding paper first, to get the "lay of the land," and then go back and look at specific papers of interest. Parts 1–3 address issues concerning individuals: the psychological problems associated with creativity in both eminent and everyday creative people as well as the potential psychological health benefits of living a creative lifestyle. Parts 4 and 5 address societal issues.

In part 1, papers by Andreasen, Jamison, Ludwig, and Rothenberg discuss research on the connections of affective disorders and related conditions—particularly the "bipolar spectrum"—and eminent creativity. At this point, there is reasonable agreement on the existence of such connections as well as on the relationship between various aspects of these disorders and phases of creativity—i.e., mild hypomania appears to be associated with enhanced creativity. These connections are found primarily in creative artists and writers; psychiatric diagnoses were much less prevalent, according to Ludwig’s research, in creative scientists.

Part 2 addresses everyday creativity and asks whether there is a connection between mood disorders and noneminent creativity. Studies by Richards and Kinney and their collaborators as well as by Schuldberg found mild mood elevation and hypomania corresponding to creativity of all sorts. In fact, even for a "normal" person, a slight mood elevation, such as from watching a comedy film, can boost creativity and inspiration. Searching for an evolutionary explanation for the fact that a striking 4%–5% of the population may develop mood disorders with an underlying bipolar vulnerability, Richards and Kinney offer a compelling argument for the adaptive benefit of such disorders. They found that the normal first-degree relatives of patients with bipolar disorder, as well as their cyclothymic relatives, were higher in creativity measures than the patients themselves or normal control subjects. They posit, therefore, that affective disorders may offer a compensatory advantage with respect to creativity, analogous to that offered by sickle cell anemia with respect to malaria resistance. Richards asserts, "Where creativity is concerned abnormal does not necessarily mean pathological."

Although the notion of the mad creator and consequently the field of study around it has historically held a kind of glamour, part 3 discusses the equally important but less popularly discussed connection between psychological health and creativity. The healing power of the arts is discussed by Gedo and Ostwald. A possible connection between creativity and self-actualization is discussed by Cropley and Rhodes as well as by Runco, Ebersole, and Mraz, who call on the theories of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow to assert that creativity can be an integral aspect of personal growth.

Part 4 turns to the issue of societal health and creativity. An essay by social psychologist Dean Keith Simonton discusses the very complex issues of how political pathology influences creativity through its effects on eminent creators and expands the focus of the book by asking whether creativity itself is intrinsically healthy for cultures. Simonton delineates three factors of political "disruption" or "pathology" that negatively affect creativity: international war, external threat, and political instability (or anarchy). On the other hand, political fragmentation and civil disturbance may promote diversified thinking and thus show positive links with creativity. Simonton’s article is followed by seven commentaries and a rejoinder.

Part 5 pushes the inquiry even farther by asking how individual creativity can make the world a better place. Toward this end, Barron and Bradley present a chapter entitled "The Clash of Social Philosophies and Personalities in the Nuclear Arms Control Debate: A Healthful Dialectic?" and Gruber discusses "Creative Altruism, Cooperation, and World Peace." In all, the book’s political message provides much for the reader to ponder.

As this brief review has tried to demonstrate, the topics covered in this volume are quite rich and far-reaching. As a psychologist who uses creative art therapies to work with at-risk children and their families as well as with traumatized adults, one of us (A.H.-F.) found a number of the issues raised to be especially provocative. The book makes a strong case for fostering creativity in children, as well as in their families, in order to develop self-actualized, open-minded citizens who can address societal and global problems in an evolved manner. In practice, promoting a child’s creativity seems to help develop self-confidence to overcome family and societal obstacles to their growth and strengthens their resiliency. Richards also speaks of the "natural high"—the release of endorphins—that results from a joyous creative experience. Our society, plagued by massive addiction problems that destroy families and communities, could surely benefit from a widespread effort to promote creativity through public programs geared toward at-risk children, teens, and adults. Imagine a "Just say create!" program.

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