The Surprising Link Between Creativity and Schizophrenia

A mural of Salvador Dali and Vincent Van Gogh at the International Fair of Contemporary Art in Madrid in 2006
A mural of Salvador Dali and Vincent Van Gogh at the International Fair of Contemporary Art in Madrid in 2006
Philippe Desmazes, AFP/Getty Images

Creative people—or at least those with degrees in creative fields—have a 90 percent higher chance of being diagnosed with schizophrenia than people working in non-creative fields, according to a new study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry. It also found that artistic types are 62 percent more likely to have bipolar disorder, and 39 percent more likely to have depression.

Researchers at King's College London mined a registry of 4.5 million people in Sweden and found links between those who had studied an artistic field (like music or art) and those who had been hospitalized for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression, compared to the general population. Schizophrenia occurs in about 1 percent of the general population.

But that doesn't mean that creativity causes mental illness, as Big Think points out. As scientists like to say, correlation does not equal causation. In the current study, the researchers say the link can be explained by the fact that the brains of creative people may function differently. "Creativity often involves linking ideas or concepts in ways that other people wouldn't think of," James MacCabe, the lead researcher, told New Scientist. "But that's similar to how delusions work—for example, seeing a connection between the color of someone's clothes and being part of an MI5 [UK security service] conspiracy."

This isn't the first study to examine the relationship between creativity and mental illness—and not everyone is convinced that such a relationship exists—but the King's College researchers say the huge scope of their study is different. "High-quality epidemiological evidence has been lacking," they write.

A similar study of the Swedish population from 2011 found a link between bipolar disorder and those working in a creative field, but found no link for schizophrenia or depression. And in 2015, a controversial study by the CEO of a biological research company purportedly found that people working in creative fields were more likely to carry the genetic variants for mental illness. However, those variants only had a tiny effect on creativity—less than 1 percent.

[h/t Big Think]

How Did 6 Feet Become the Standard Grave Depth?

iStock
iStock

It all started with the plague: The origins of “six feet under” come from a 1665 outbreak in England. As the disease swept the country, the mayor of London literally laid down the law about how to deal with the bodies to avoid further infections. Among his specifications—made in “Orders Conceived and Published by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London, Concerning the Infection of the Plague”—was that “all the graves shall be at least six feet deep.”

The law eventually fell out of favor both in England and its colonies. Modern American burial laws vary from state to state, though many states simply require a minimum of 18 inches of soil on top of the casket or burial vault (or two feet of soil if the body is not enclosed in anything). Given an 18-inch dirt buffer and the height of the average casket (which appears to be approximately 30 inches), a grave as shallow as four feet would be fine.

A typical modern burial involves a body pumped full of chemical preservatives sealed inside a sturdy metal casket, which is itself sealed inside a steel or cement burial vault. It’s less of a hospitable environment for microbes than the grave used to be. For untypical burials, though—where the body isn’t embalmed, a vault isn’t used, or the casket is wood instead of metal or is foregone entirely—even these less strict burial standards provide a measure of safety and comfort. Without any protection, and subjected to a few years of soil erosion, the bones of the dearly departed could inconveniently and unexpectedly surface or get too close to the living, scaring people and acting as disease vectors. The minimum depth helps keep the dead down where they belong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article originally appeared in 2012.

One Good Reason Not to Hold in a Fart: It Could Leak Out of Your Mouth

iStock/grinvalds
iStock/grinvalds

The next time you hold in a fart for fear of being heard by polite company, just remember this: It could leak out of your mouth instead of your butt. Writing on The Conversation, University of Newcastle nutrition and dietetics professor Clare Collins explains that pent-up gas can pass through your gut wall and get reabsorbed into your circulation. It's then released when you exhale, whether you like it or not.

“Holding on too long means the build up of intestinal gas will eventually escape via an uncontrollable fart,” Collins writes. In this case, the fart comes out of the wrong end. Talk about potty mouth.

A few brave scientists have investigated the phenomenon of flatulence. In one study, 10 healthy volunteers were fed half a can of baked beans in addition to their regular diets and given a rectal catheter to measure their farts over a 24-hour period. Although it was a small sample, the results were still telling. Men and women let loose the same amount of gas, and the average number of “flatus episodes” (a single fart, or series of farts) during that period was eight. Another study of 10 people found that high-fiber diets led to fewer but bigger farts, and a third study found that gases containing sulphur are the culprit of the world’s stinkiest farts. Two judges were tapped to rate the odor intensity of each toot, and we can only hope that they made it out alive.

Scientific literature also seems to support Collins’s advice to “let it go.” A 2010 paper on “Methane and the gastrointestinal tract” says methane, hydrogen sulfide, and other gases that are produced in the intestinal tract are mostly eliminated from the body via the anus or “expelled from the lungs.” Holding it in can lead to belching, flatulence, bloating, and pain. And in some severe cases, pouches can form along the wall of the colon and get infected, causing diverticulitis.

So go ahead and let it rip, just like nature intended—but maybe try to find an empty room first.

[h/t CBS Philadelphia]

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