Creativity and Madness: Shelley Carson on the Psychology of Creativity

Faculty insight: Shelley Carson interview

What is the psychology of creativity? Shelley Carson, a Harvard Extension School psychology instructor, discusses the historic links between creativity and depression, with Jenny Attiyeh of ThoughtCast.

Interview with Shelley Carson

Shelley Carson is an associate of Harvard’s department of psychology, a lecturer at Harvard Extension School, and a blogger for Psychology Today.

Carson is an expert on psychopathology, which is the study of mental illness and she has found that there has been a connection between high levels of creativity and strange behavior and actions.

Carson’s research has found that, in general, creative people have a greater risk of mental disorders. The humanist theory suggests that creativity is the highest pinnacle of self-actualization and it’s really a part of positive mental health.

On the other hand, there is research that suggests that creative people are at a higher risk of mood disorders, in particular for bipolar disorder. They also have a greater rate of drug abuse and alcoholism.

Carson states that the greatest thing you can do is to follow your creative tendencies. She emphasizes that most creative people do not have mental illness.

She has also studied the ability of an artist to accomplish their work when they are depressed. Carson has found they are able to get more work done when their mood is on the rise. In the bipolar cycle, this happens when the person is going from depression to normalcy. She also found that artists are able to get more work done again in the bipolar cycle when they are going from normalcy to the hypomanic state.

Certain symptoms of mental illness may promote creativity. For example, when people are in a hypomanic state they may have greater mental clarity. Also, they may have a greater activation of association of networks, so one idea leads to another.

Carson maintains that everyone can be creative by following certain steps she discusses in her book, Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life. If we train our brains properly, we can be more creative in all different facets of our life.

Psychology courses and degrees

Shelley Carson’s blogs and books

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