Differences between Creativity and Mental Illness in Music Industry

Mental Health and Creativity: Investigating the Fine Line between Creativity and Mental Illness in The Music and Literary Industries


Madness and creativity are perceived to have a correlation and the argument that such link exists can be traced back to the ancient Greek era. Plato once argued that poetic and linguistic inspiration has roots in ‘divine madness.’ The link between madness and creativity is perhaps established because of the empirical evidence of high prevalence of psychosis among famous creative personalities. Using quantitative approach, the study examines the fine line between creativity and mental illness in the music industry. The study recruited 40 musicians, 40 writers and 40 non-creative individual from the general population of London. The writers and musicians were extracted from British department of culture.

From the findings, there was some clinical correlation between creativity and mental illness especially depression and mood disorders for both musicians and writers. However, such correlation did not reach statistical significance to establish a link between these variables. Without the link, the fine line is established between creativity and mental illness. This means that creativity does not increase the chances of one getting mental disorders. For the incidences that creativity musicians and writers have mental challenges there are coping skills they adopt. From the analysis, most of the creative people adopt problem-focused and acceptance domain skills to cope with psychiatric disorders. This means that seeking medical attention is taken as the intervention of last resort.

Chapter one: Introduction

Madness and creativity are perceived to have a correlation and the argument that such link exists can be traced back to the ancient Greek era. Plato once argued that poetic and linguistic inspiration has roots in ‘divine madness’ (Becker 2014).  The link between madness and creativity is perhaps established because of the empirical evidence of high prevalence of psychosis among famous creative personalities. For instance, in the literary field, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Virginia Woolf were famous because of their creativity (Pavitra, Chandrashekar & Choudhury 2007). However, all underwent incidences of significant depression leading to mental illness before their eventually committed suicide. Studies have used such examples to argue that there seems to be a link between the two (Carson 2013). However, the debate still rages as to whether such propositions are scientifically supported and validated by clinical diagnoses. This study does not seek to establish the link but tries to establish whether there is a distinction between psychopathology and creativity within the music and literary industries. It intends to use experimental data to establish the fine line between music genius and insanity for famous artists such as Michael Jackson’s, Kanye West, Britney Spears as well as kids with autism who are child prodigies such as kodi Lee in America’s got talent.  

1.1. Background of the problem

The idea that creativity and madness are interlinked has been debated for centuries starting the birth of philosophy and psychology. Aristotle once asserted that, “no great mind has existed without a touch of madness” to spur the debate on the link between psychopathology and creativity (Becker 2014, p.15). Due to the perceived link, the ‘mad genius’ has been a persistent stereotype within contemporary cultures as many great thinkers and creators have demonstrated signs of psychopathology (Reddy, Ukrani, Indla & Ukrani 2018).  It has been established that there is mystifying and uncanny coincidence between creativity and insanity that has warranted empirical research in this area to find the link or the fine line among the two.

In every generation, there has been a crop of talented and creative musicians ranging from Elvis Presley to Ken Rodgers to Michael Jackson to many others. Many of the creative musicians compose extraordinary masterpiece of music but also exhibited signs that they suffering from psychopathology. Lombroso, a famous forensic psychiatrist in the late 1800s, observed that madness and creativity and madness in many industries such as music and art were closely linked manifestations of deep-rooted, degenerative neurological disorders (Kaufman 2014). Nusbaum, Beaty, and Silvia (2014) argued that some creative musicians end up speaking lyrics that appear as if they are insane. For instance, some contemporary musicians like Kanye West, Michael Jackson, and Eminem among others sang as if they were mad prompting analysts to conclude that they has trails of madness as much as they appeared talented.

1.2.          Problem Statement

Many psychiatrists and psychologists have argued that since the brain of a genius or highly creative individual is uniquely configured, it is prone to psychopathological disorders. For instance, when John Nash, a famous mathematician suffering from schizophrenia, was asked why he believed that he was sent by aliens to save the earth, he answered, “Because the idea about supernatural things came to me the same way as did the mathematical solutions” (Reddy et al. 2018, p.170). This can be interpreted that a genius personal is easily possessed by supernatural powers that may make him/her appear mad to the ordinary person. Despite all such examples, there is a debate as to whether madness and creativity indeed are linked. There is need for profound research to ascertain, through empirical evidence, such link. Many existing research studies have been looking at the subject from a holistic perspective (Carson 2011; Carson, 2013; Thys, Sabbe & De Hert 2013). There is need for research studies with narrow scopes such as one that address the music industry in comparison with only one other field to establish the trend across various fields.

The challenge has been how to precisely ascertain the link between creativity and psychopathology. Majority of the existing literature on this area tend to make conclusions based on localized examples while others look at creativity from a wide social spectrum (Carson 2013). Simonton (2014) argued that it is hard to classify people as being creative or non-creative. Kaufman (2014) added that it is difficult to identify and isolate a genius from a population of talented individuals. This brings in the question of authenticity, how can one clearly identify a creative person? What are the parameters used to identify such people so as to examine the link between their creativity and mental disorders (Thys, Sabbe & De Hert 2013)? Given that this paper utilized experimental data to investigate the perceived link, it was assumed that the identified creative individuals for the study were indeed creative. Consequently, it did not try to establish a criterion for identifying creative musicians. Moreover, there are limited research studies that address creativity and mental illness within the music industry (Pavitra, Chandrashekar & Choudhury 2007; Greenwood 2016). Few that exist address just the link between creativity and psychopathology and not the fine line between the two. This study tries to plug this gap in literature by investigating the fine line between creative musicians and psychopathology.

1.3.          Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to investigate the fine line between creativity and madness within the music industry. The study examines famous creative musicians and writers. The study utilized data from controlled experimentation to conduct a quantitative analysis so as to establish whether there is a fine line between creativity and psychopathology within the music industry. This study used data was from participants within London to ascertain whether creativity for musicians and other individuals from other fields has a link with mental health. The documented scientific evidence linking creativity and psychopathology within the music industry comes from three research categories (Thys, Sabbe & De Hert 2013). These were historiometric research on prominent postmodern musicians, psychiatric studies anchored on clinical data, and psychometric research that applied established scientific appraisal methods (Thys, Sabbe & De Hert 2014). This study also compared the prevalence of psychopathology in the music industry with that in the literature field to understand whether the link between creativity and psychopathology unique to the music industry. By so doing, this study contributed to the body of knowledge on psychopathology and creativity.

1.4.          Significance of the Study

Creative motives, creative imagination and products from creative thinking are unique to humans and form part of the cultural achievements. According to Carson (2013), creativity is the ability to create new combinations and part of the greatly valued qualities of human beings. Within the music industry, creativity can be the key failure or success. This is because creativity drives the quest for skills in the musicians’ journey beyond the confines of the known. Although creativity has driven the music industry for as long as it has existed, it is normally associated with madness. However, there is no universal acceptance of the link between creativity and mental illness (Simonton 2014). Research studies have yielded mixed results (Thys, Sabbe & De Hert 2013). Therefore, there is need for further studies that validate the findings of previous studies and analyze the link in the movement towards universally accepted position. This research study intends to investigate data from experimental study to ascertain whether there is indeed a link. This descriptive study acts as a basis for future experimental and quasi-experimental studies that can validate the findings.

The debate on ‘mad genius’ is raging because it is a divisive and polarizing matter within the area of creativity research. This is because many psychometric, historiometirc, neuroscientific, and psychiatric studies have not conclusively established the link between psychopathology and creativity (Friedman 2014). Many existing studies have investigated the link across many fields such as engineering, business, art, science, technology, and sports. There are limited research studies that investigate this link within the music industry (Greenwood 2016). There is need for further research on specific industries to ascertain the trend. This research investigates the link within the music and literary industries thus contributing significantly to the existing literature within creativity research. Moreover, most of the existing literature in this area is outdated thus require current research to validate their findings (Koh 2006; Pavitra, Chandrashekar & Choudhury 2007; Carson 2011). Most of the existing studies within the music industry concentrate on the link between creativity and psychopathology (Reddy et al. 2018; Friedman 2014; Becker 2014). There is need for studies that try to establish a line between creativity and madness. This study investigates this fine line and includes writers as part of the creative within the study population. Given that this study analyzes literature from different cultures and music genres, it helps one understand the global trends. Therefore, this study is significant because it contributes to the body of knowledge within creativity research by plugging aforementioned gap in literature.

Apart from its contribution to literature, this study may benefit stakeholders within the music industry. For musicians, the findings from this study help in drawing the line between creativity and madness. This might help made be more creative while reducing the levels of psychopathology (Greenwood 2016). For music producers, the findings from this study may help them isolate creativity from madness and accommodate some level of madness within creative artists. The findings may make the producers understand the link between creativity and madness and find ways of improving creativity and mitigating madness within the industry. For the music audience, the findings may be helpful in their appreciation of the quality of music they listen to and isolate madness from creative products. The findings can also help the audience in propagating some level of tolerance to various forms of psychopathology within the industry. The same applies to literary readers because writers are compared with musicians within this study. For researchers and scholars, the findings from this study can act as a framework for investigating the fine line instead of the link between creativity and mental health. For psychiatrists and psychologists, the findings from this study can help them with empirical evidence of the fine line between creativity and mental health so as to find the best solutions for their clients. Therefore, this research study is significant in the contemporary research, music industry, and the general public.

1.5.          Aim and Objectives of the Study

The main aim of this study is to investigate the fine line between creativity and madness within the music industry. The research includes writers so as to draw a comparison between the music and literary industries. The specific objectives of this study are to:

  1. Establish whether there is a link between postmodern creativity and psychopathology in the music and literary industries
  2. Compare the prevalence of psychiatric disorders among creative and non-creative populations
  3. Investigate the coping skills utilized by creative musicians and writers compared to non-creative population

1.6.          Research Questions

Research questions helps a researcher define the scope of the study and guide the data collection process as well as the analysis. There are three research questions for this study that include;

  1. Is there a cognitive or biological link between postmodern music creativity and mental illness?
  2. What is the prevalence of psychiatric disorders among creative musicians and writers compared to non-creative population?
  3. What are the coping skills utilized by creative musicians and writers compared to non-creative population?

1.7.          Hypotheses

This study tested three alternative hypotheses concerning the topic under investigation. They include;

H1: There is a significant cognitive or biological line between postmodern creativity and psychopathology in the music and literary industries

H2: There is a higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders among creative musicians and writers compared to non-creative population

1.8.          Conclusion

Over time, there is an increasing believe that creativity and madness are correlated. This chapter offered the introduction to the research study and gives the basis for the subsequent chapters.  The introduction addressed the background knowledge about the link and distinction between creativity and madness. The chapter then addressed the problem statement, purpose of the study and the significance of the study. The aims and objectives, research questions, and alternatives hypotheses are formulated to guide the research process and define the scope of the study. The outline for the remaining parts of the dissertation is as follows; chapter two reviews the existing literature in the area, chapter three addresses the research methodology utilized while chapter four addresses the data collection and analysis. The last chapter draws conclusions and recommendations as well as future study areas.

Chapter two: Literature Review

2.1. Introduction

            It has been mentioned in the introduction section that there exists a link between creativity and madness and that has existed since ancient times. There is a general recognition that there was uncanny as well as mystifying coincidence that exists between creativity and madness (Kéri, 2009). Extremely creative individuals have many unusual traits suggesting that they have physiological processes that are similar to those observed in madness (Pavitra, Chandrashekar, & Choudhury 2007). The occurrence of instances of mad genius has elicited interest amongst various researchers to investigate the link that exits amongst the two. Nevertheless, there has been no clear explanation that offers a direct relationship between the two (Kéri, 2009). This section explores the existing literature on the possible links between mental health and creativity and by far the fine line between music creativity and madness.

2.2. Definition of creativity and Madness

            From Pavitra, Chandrashekar and Choudhury (2007) creativity has three main components the innate motivation towards development or further exploration, the skills to expertise in a particular field, and the cognitive process for conceiving and synthesizing novel ideas. For Kéri, (2009) creativity is the ability to come up with an output which has an aspect of novelty as well as originality although it has to be of beneficial purpose and value to humanity. The purist uses the term to refer product which has transformative elements that make it depart from the way is well known at that time (Pavitra, Chandrashekar, & Choudhury 2007). Work by Charles, Durham-Fowler & Malone (2016) summarizes the main aspect of genius within Plutarch’s description of Archimedes where it has to be a combination of innate endowment, divine inspiration and hard work. Then such individuals would have a personality having behaviors associated with indulging with activities that are unusual in their field of specialization. When a person lacks in the above traits he might be called mad.

            Somasundaram (2011) defines madness as a changed abnormal, consciousness or aberrant state of one’s mind. The medics have two forms of mental disorders. The first is a disorder of neurosis describing the slighter forms associated with mental disorders for example depressions, phobias, compulsions, and hypochondriasis. The second type is the aberrant mental disorder where the individuals lose contact with reality. Under such circumstances, they would show irresponsible and irrational behaviors (Charles, Durham-Fowler & Malone 2016). They would exhibit Psychotic afflictions inclusive manic depressive disorder, delirium and schizophrenia. Going by the above definition of madness and creativity they are behaviors that are exhibited by some modern luminary artists.

2.3. Creative Individuals

            For long the common observation has been that creative people are those who are unusual in any aspect of their life. They have been associated to have s psychological processes that are similar to those observed for the mad people (Somasundaram 2011). Creative people would have extraordinary performance that can be in music, philosophy, poetry or dance. The extraordinary performance is the one that had made most individuals have a view that there can be no creative individuals without some sense of madness (Somasundaram 2011). At the same time, some other results have shown increased cases of schizophrenia, depression, manic depressive disorders, and alcoholism or extreme cases of drug abuse amongst highly creative individuals.

             Emotional instability is detrimental to an individual’s creativity however there are instances when it can be used to one’s advantages. It can provide the intense motivation, egocentric, the conviction, the imagination, the unconventionality and the inspiration that is required to make discoveries in one’s field of specialization (Somasundaram 2011). It can allow the musician to compose some work that can escape powerful social as well as cultural constraints which in most instances favor conformity as well as conviction (Simonton 2014). When the musicians have such traits what remains is for the researcher to determine the types of psychopathology that facilitate or inhibit some particular creative activities.

            Simonton (2014) noted that the relationship existing between creativity and madness can be apocryphal. Most of the renowned musicians at some point in their life have led lives that can be presumably described as insane. The lives of such musicians leave researcher with many questions that are unanswered whether mental illness is incidental to one’s creative processes. Mental symptoms as well as emotional disorders to some extent can represent some consequences of the creative activity.

            Olugbile and Zachariah (2011) studies indicated that the majority of individuals who are having a mental illness at some point in their life they suffered from depressive disorders such as dysthymia. Other studies have found more bipolar spectrum which exits amongst the creative people (Olugbile & Zachariah 2011).Majority of the creative people do experience some depressive disorders. However, the majority of them never seek treatments which at the time make the number of creative artists to be mad.

            According to Simonton, (2014) the creative people fail to seek treatments because of multiple reasons. They have a stigma associated with being well-known people contacting the help of a physician are going to impact their fame. They have a fear that taking neurotropic is going to affect their creativity. There is a popular notion that one has to be a little mad for them to be creative (Simonton 2014). The musicians and other artist believe that creative people are better equipped when compared with the general population on their ability to cope with stressors hence they prefer to handle stress on their own an aspect that complicates their insanity situations.

2.4. Evidence to Show Link between Music Creativity and Madness

            Plato was one of the earliest people to note that poetic stimulus had some sources in divine insanity. During that time the issue of madness as viewed by the Greeks was not the same as the current one (Akinola & Mendes 2008). At that time madness was a stimulus from the Gods and was a thing with a beneficial influence and was an enabling issue. Akinola, & Mendes, (2008) concluded that there was a link between the creativity of people and mental illness and that is reaffirmed through high cases of psychosis for the imaginative luminaries within the society.  In the literal world, there is a notable case such as those by Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway who had depression that finally made them commit suicide.

             The other individuals who were noted for their creative eminence and were marred with psychotic afflictions include artists and scientists such as Michael Faraday, Vincent Van Gogh, and Isaac Newton. On the music front, there is notable artist such as Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and Kanye West (Akinola & Mendes, 2008). Besides, there are renowned kids having autism, for example, Kodi Lee one of the greatest performers in America has talent Show. 

2.4.1. Genetic or Biological Link

            Jamison (2011) in his work speculated there is a common genetic origin associated with psychosis and creativity. The work showed that for the children of schizophrenic mothers 50% of them showed some psychosocial impairment while the other 50% grew to be people in life with exceptional traits and talents. Jamison, (2011) come up with a positive and remarkable correlation existing between the creative levels of individuals and the occurrence of them having a mental disorder in them or at times their parents exhibiting the same. Sussman, (2007) work further discussed the link between creativity and manic depressive disorders for individuals. The studies concluded that the kids of bipolar parents do have higher creativity scores when compared to those of normally healthy parents.

            Despite the above studies showing that there is evidence for the existence of a genetic link between cases of psychosis and one’s creativity is significant for many mental conditions. Jamison, (2011) cautions one from making hasty decisions for the existence of those links since it cannot be applied for all mental conditions. In as far as there are a good number of highly creative children who are born from parents having some psychotic conditions there is an equally higher number of children who are born from mentally healthy parents or those who are highly creative. Similarly, there are cases of low creative children born from parents considered creative although psychotic.

2.4.2. Cognitive Link

            Kyaga et.al (2013) investigated the idea that creative individuals, as well as psychotics, do have acommon thinking style through studies done on cognitive processes of individuals. The work showed that besides the three main thinking styles that is convergent thinking, acceptance of ambiguity, and divergent think there are other cognitive traits related to one’s thinking. The traits are originality, flexibility and fluency of thinking, elaboration and redefinition. The above are core traits that an individual should have to be successful in the music industry. On their part Laursen et al. (2013) highlighted two modes of thinking which reflect a predisposition to psychosis although they have some close similarity to the concept of Guildford’s cognitive characteristics.

            One of the traits was allusive thinking that is viewed as being valuable and it invokes highly intuitive thoughts processes that are associated with inappropriate and imprecise speech. Imaginative thinking can only be distinguished from the psychotic form of thinking through the control that is exerted by a person over his/her thinking processes (Kyaga et.al. 2013). Creative thinking has to be purposeful as well rational and it has clear-cut objectives.

            Psychotic thinking which is associated with some musicians is haphazard, capricious and nonsensical. The creative form of thinking has to be managed by the originator as opposed to psychotic thinking that in most instances overpowers its originator. For Laursen et.al. (2013) people who have low latent inhibition are susceptible to mental illness because they cannot filter off some of the irrelevant stimuli they get and that always interferes with their thought processes. On that other hand low –latent inhibition enables individuals to develop exceptional cognitive flexibilities which engender creative achievement (Laursen, et.al. 2013).

2.4.3. Personality Links

            Jenkins and Arribas-Ayllon (2016) work showed similarity in one’s character and the experiences amongst creative normal people and the schizophrenics. The similarities are in the form of restlessness, impulsive nature, tendency to accept common values and likeness of solitude. The creative individuals like solitary disposition, indifferent social norms, and are poor in social skills. Most of them are likely to be dominated and aggressive at times and would like to impose their views as well as tenaciously defend them. Potokar et al. (2016) explored the relationship between personality and schizophrenia. Their research showed that schizophrenia is linked with high instances of peculiarity as well as introversion.

            Reddy et al. (2018) concluded that there is no decisive evidence related to creativity and psychosis. However, a close association exists between psychoticism and creativity which they define as theoretical disposition trait. It is a hereditary ability for one to cultivate psychosis when the right circumstances exist. Creative people do have a predisposing towards psychotic behaviors. However, that does not mean they have to be insane (Reddy, et.al, 2018). Most of the creative writers and musicians will always accredit their genius abilities to intrinsic need to emphasize with people and having high sensitivity towards human suffering. It is the case where many writers and musicians have centered their works of the human conditions as well as the prevailing social injustices in society. It is assumed that musicians by nature are more sensitive as well as tend to use their expressive experiences for purposes of achieving their creative products (Reddy, et.al   2018). On that note, they are responsible to be victims of their sensitivity which makes them, to be overwhelmed by situations of desperateness and melancholy. 

2.5. Creativity and Madness: Empirical Findings

            Scientific evidence to link creativity and madness can be achieved from any of the three studies outlined below.

2.5.1. Historiometric Research

            Histroriometric studies are based on the prominent biographies of the past musicians and artists. (Reddy, et.al. 2018) carried out research on the biographies of major creators were systematically analyzed to analyze the presence of symptoms that are similar to the various psychopathological syndromes.  The inferences from the work show that the rate, as well as the intensity associated with psychopathological symptoms, is higher among the prominent artist when compared to the cases within the general population. The work estimates that highly creative artist has two-time chances of experiencing some forms of psychiatric disorders when compared to the non-creative people. Reddy et al. (2018) argued that the more eminent a creator is they will have a higher rate and intensity of mental disorders. The rate and intensity of the symptoms tend to vary depending on the domain of one’s creativity. On that note, it can be different for a writer as compared to the cases of the musician. Family lines that have more creative personalities are characterized by a higher rate as well as the intensity of the psychopathological symptoms.

2.5.2. Psychiatric Research 

            This type of research focuses on the incidents of clinical diagnosis as well as the treatments offered to present-day musicians. Jauk, Benedek, Dunst, and Neubauer (2013) showed that there are a higher rate and intensity of the mental symptoms for the distinguished creators specifically those involved in artistic creativity. The artist will experience higher cases of suicide, alcoholism, and depression which is the most common psychopathological problem that the creators face (Jauk, Benedek, Dunst, & Neubauer 2013). The work also shows that creativity, as well as mental illness, is exhibited within the same family lines hence the study adds to the histroriometric research described in section 2.4.1.

2.5.3. Psychometric Research

            With this type of research, standard assessment tools are used to study the minds of modern-day creative individuals. In this kind of research, the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire and the personality inventory test are commonly used to collect data. From the studies highly creative people scored above normal on multiple dimension of psychopathology. A study by Kéri (2009) showed that highly creative people do have a tendency of having some elevated scores on major psychopathological symptom scales. Nevertheless, their scores are rarely high to have a clear-cut as well as sterling psychopathology. Their scores always lie between the abnormal and normal ranges. Creative people do score high in other characteristics and that at times dampens the effects associated with psychopathological symptoms. For example, musicians can display high levels of ego-strength together with self-sufficiency. They can exert meta-cognitive control on their psychopathological symptoms and can take advantage of bizarre thinking to create as opposed to taking advantage of them. Ideally, the psychometric research shows that eminent creators lie on some spectrum as that associated with psychopathological syndromes (Kéri 2009). Nevertheless, they can display a less severe form of psychopathological syndromes.

Chapter three: Research Methodology

3.0. Introduction

The methodology chapter addresses the techniques used to collect and analyze data for this study. It outlines the research design, sampling techniques, data collection methods, and the ethical consideration during the data collection process. Data collection tools are assessed to ascertain the level of reliability and validity of the findings from this study. Saunders et al. (2009) summarized the research methodology through a research onion (see figure 1) and this chapter adopted the onion. According to Creswell (2014), a careful selection of a research methodology ensures successful data collection and credible findings.

Figure 1: A pictorial expression of the research onion (Saunders et al. 2009)

3.1. Research Design

Given that the fine line between creativity and madness can best be ascertained through quantitative procedures, this research study utilized a quantitative research design. Quantitative studies aim to analyze causal relationship between pre-determined independent and dependent variables (Creswell & Hesse-Biber 2011). In quantitative research design, variance analysis and cross-sectional examinations are commonly used to establish variations in the resultant criteria (dependent variable) that are statistically expressed through the input factors (independent variables) (Punch 2014). Using quantitative approach, the study examines the link between music creativity and mental illness. This approach uses hard research methods that are focusing on standard statistics with a large sample size (Weber 2004). For this descriptive study, data from previous studies was utilized to test the hypotheses and try to establish the fine line between creativity and psychopathology.

The advantages of quantitative design include unambiguous, clear findings because the hypotheses are either rejected or accepted. It also permits comparisons across an array of studies. According to Creswell (2014), quantitative methods have greater objectivity because the researcher’s subjectivity is minimized. Consequently, it allows broad replication depending on the sample size. The larger the sample size, the wider the application of the findings (Zhanga 2014). Despite these strengths, Creswell (2014) argued that quantitative instruments are mostly unable to accommodate situational and contextual meanings because of their inability to observe qualitative, social activities.

From the ontological and epistemological perspective, this study employed a post-positivistic philosophy. Through this philosophy, knowledge about reality is assumed not pre-determined but imperfectly and probabilistically apprehensible (Punch 2014). This means that reality can only be approximated as it cannot be fully understood. Post-positivist approach allows researchers to integrate numerous data sources and collect as much data as possible so as to capture various faces of the underlying reality under investigation (Weber 2004). For this study, the post-positivist approach made it possible to obtain data from experimentation for descriptive analysis and hypothesis testing. In terms of research strategies, this study utilized an experimental strategy in which data was collected from the experimental and control groups for comparative analysis to ascertain the fine line between creativity and mental illness as well as the coping skills.

3.2. Sampling techniques

Random sampling procedure was used to obtain the minimum sample size for this study. Random sampling ensured that member of the target population get an equal chance of being selected to participate in the study. This eliminates biasness associated with purposeful sampling. Given that the study is experimental in nature, it employed both the experimental and control groups. To ensure an appropriate sample size, the total population was taken as 300 for the experimental group and another 300 for the control group. Online sample computation software was used to obtain the minimum sample size. From the computation forty musicians and forty writers were included in the study. The participants were extracted from the British Department of Culture which had an alphabetical list of 300 most celebrated and renowned musicians and writers in London. The participants were recruited through a randomization process in which randomly numbers tables were constructed and used to select participants (Burch & Heinrich 2016). Their contact details were also extracted from the source that was used to request participation using a consent form. For those who declined participation in the study, random replacement was done to ensure that the sample size was maintained at 40 for both musicians and writers.

For the control group, a sample size of 40 participants was randomly selected from the general London population using strict exclusion criteria. One participant was randomly selected from every four households and no matching with the experimental groups was done.

Inclusion criteria: For the participants to be included in this study the person had to be between 24 to 65 years of age, be of either sex, be active and creative within the past ten years in the fields of music and literature, be London-based musician or writer, and acceptance to participate through informed consent (Appendix 1).

Exclusion criteria: The potential participants were excluded from the study if one presently has acute neurological or medical complications, current mental retardation, or did not accept to participate through an informed consent. For the control group, exclusion criteria included active creativity in literature or music.

After randomization, the participants were thoroughly screened against a checklist that had the inclusion and exclusion criteria.

3.3. Data collection

After randomization, the experimental group was contacted through telephone calls or emails. The researcher discussed with the subjects the aim of the study, level of confidentiality involved and time of the study before sending the consent form to the subjects. The researcher interviewed each participant for two sessions. The data collection tools included a socio-demographic data sheet, General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28), The SCAN version 2.1, Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), and a coping checklist.

3.4. Data analysis

Data analysis involves careful manipulation of the raw data collected to come with interpretable findings that address the phenomena under investigation. This is a quantitative study that required quantitative analysis tools. Descriptive statistical tools were used to analyze the data and test the formulated hypotheses. Descriptive and comparative tables, graphs, and columns were constructed using Ms Excel and SPSS version 20.0 software. Mean standard deviation was computed for continuous variables and percentages were obtained for categorical relationships. Reverse coding was undertaken to enable the computation of cumulative domain totals and their scores obtained. Categorical variables were examined through Chi-square test.

3.5. Ethical considerations

Most research studies are conducted with given societies with human participants. There are established field ethics that tend to protect the human participants and streamline studies into the societal norms, morals and accepted standards. The ethical matters are considered along three major dimensions; beneficence, justice, and the respect for people (CTRFP 2013). Participation in this study was voluntary and an informed consent was obtained from each participant. The researcher vowed to keep all the data confidential and ensured that the data extracted was used only for academic purposes. To maintain the secrecy of the information obtained, the raw data collected from participants will be shredded six months after the completion of the study (Resnik, 2011). To maintain anonymity of the participants, only serial codes were used to denote particular subjects so as to conceal their true identities. The data obtained will not be used as evidence in a court of justice and in any form that might victimize particular participants who voluntarily supplied it.

The researcher acknowledged all secondary data source through proper citation and referencing in line with the required copyright procedures. The research made formal requests for the use of data from selected sources and pledged to follow the authors’ guidelines in the utilization of secondary data (CTRFP 2013). A formal permission from the University’s IRB was obtained giving the researcher guidelines on how to collect and utilize data involving human participants.

3.6. Validity and reliability

Reliability and validity of any research is measured along four constructs, that is, external validity, internal validity, construct validity, and reliability. According to Golafshani (2007), many researchers perceive these constructs as inclined to quantitative methods but argued that they apply to all categories of studies. Construct validity is anchored on the conceptualization and measurement of the concepts under study. If it is not achieved, the research ends up addressing concepts that are outside the scope of the study (Creswell & Hesse-Biber 2011). For this study, rigorous observation of the scope of the study is made and the collected data is carefully assessed to ensure that it addresses the link between creativity and mental illness. Therefore, only data about creativity and psychopathology within the music industry was included for analysis. Internal validity deals with the ambiguousness that can be attached to the findings leading to various interpretations (Brink 2009). To ensure internal validity, a researcher needs to ensure that the findings are as explicit as possible to attract a single interpretation. This study utilized accepted statistical methods to analyze data so as to give a single interpretation.

External validity deals with the generalization of the findings from a given study sample. Given that this is a quantitative study, its findings are not associated with the subjectivity of qualitative methods hence generalization is possible. Given that the findings are based on statistical analysis using a large sample size, its generalization is high because of the numeric nature of the findings. According to Golafshani (2007), reliability deals with the replication of the findings. It is the extent to which a different researcher can use the instruments and carry out the study in a different setting but with similar conditions to come up with same results (Brink 2009). The instruments used to collect data a crucial in improving reliability. For this study, a clear database is established using a rigorous inclusion and exclusion criteria. Tested and widely accepted data collection tools such as the PSS and GHQ-28 were used that have proven to produce same resulted in different environments. Precise guidelines are established for the coding and rating of data for inclusion in the analysis so as to enhance reliability.

3.7. Limitations of the methodology

One major limitation of quantitative methods is that they reduce complex human behaviors and social constructs into mere numeric values. Consequently, quantitative studies are not able to capture qualitative human emotions so as to draw contextual meanings (Burch & Heinrich 2016). There is also a high likelihood of false interpretation of findings arising from pre-determined hypotheses and factors internal to the study population may be ignored due to the emphasis on external factors that establish a causal relationship (Creswell 2014). Therefore, quantitative studies are negatively affected by perceived reality compared to qualitative studies that tend to observe the phenomena in its nature setting without pre-determined hypotheses. Mixed methods approach is best alternative to the selected methodology because it combines the strengths of both qualitative and quantitative methods thus minimizing the effects of their weaknesses (Creswell & Hesse-Biber 2011). However, it requires high-end field skills and complex analysis. Moreover, the phenomenon under study for this research is a causal relationship between creativity and mental illness thus quantitative methods are appropriate.

3.8. Conclusion

The chapter addressed the research methods employed to collect and analyze data. It outlines the research design, sampling methods, data collection and analysis plan, and the limitations of the methodology. Given that this study was conducted with accepted field practices, the ethical considerations are also highlighted. The study utilized a quantitative method with a post-positivist approach. It is a descriptive study that intends to investigate the fine line between music creativity and psychopathology. Data collection was done through experimentation and statistical analysis undertaken to establish various relationships between the independent and dependent variables.

Chapter Four: Results

This chapter presents the findings from the data collected. Various visual and narrative tools are used to present the findings and link them to the literature reviewed so as to plug the research gap identified earlier. The findings are presented according to the research questions. The formulated hypotheses are tested to accept or reject the null hypotheses. Given that this is a quantitative study, the findings are presented in statistical format to ascertain how significant the link between creativity and mental illness is.

4.0. Demographic data

For this study, 120 London-based participants were involved, 40 for each group. In terms of gender, there were 57 men and 63 women and the mean age was 48.3 years. ANOVA (p<0.004) was used to compare the income, sex, and education of the participants. Table 1 below shows the socio-demographic data for the participants.

Table 1: socio-demographic characteristics of the participants

Variables Control Writers Musicians P value X2 value
Elementary 7(17.3%) 1(2.6%) 4(10%)    
Secondary 3(7.6%) 2(5.3%) 3(7.5%)    
Graduate 25(62.2%) 5(12.2%) 19(47.3%) 0.001 42.22
Post graduate 5(12.6%) 32(80.9%) 14(34%)    
Family Nature          
Nuclear 22(54%) 28(70.1%) 19(47.4%)    
Joint 10(26%) 0 1(2.4%)    
Extended 8(19%) 12(30%) 20(50%) 0.007 23.97
Marital status          
Single 2(6%) 0 10(24%)    
married 38(94%) 39(97.4% 29(72.4%) 0.227 1.45
Divorced 0 1 (2.6%) 1(2.6%)    
Source of income          
Creative works 22(55%) 32(80%) 0.001 46.85
Non-creative 40(100%) 18(20%) 8(45%)    

From the table, most of the writers (80.9%) have attained post-graduate education compared to musicians and the non-creative groups. Most of the participants were married and have a nuclear family. Most of the subjects from the experiment group have taken creative work as their main source of income (p<0.001).

In terms of family history of mental illness, the creative group has a higher incidence of psychopathology (p<0.001) compared to the control group (table 2).

Table 2: Family history or occurrence of mental illness

Variable Control writers Musicians F/X2 Value P value
Family history/occurrence of mental illness 9(22.4) 24(61) 23(56.45) 14.12 0.001
Family history or occurrence of creativity 6(14) 40(100) 33(81.5) 70.65 0.001

Table 3: Various mental ailments within the family history

When General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28) was administered to all the participants, the overall results revealed negative tendencies.  This means that there is not statistically significant occurrence of mental illnesses for all the groups. However, the creative groups (writers and musicians) had higher incidences of mental illness compared to the control group but were not statistically significant.

Figure 2: The GHQ-28 positivity test

4.1. Link between creativity and psychopathology

The GHQ-28 was administered to all the participants and 44 subjects scored more than 5 on the scale which was set as the minimum cut-off during the administration. The 44 participants who passed the cut-off on GHQ-28 and another additional 8 participants (10%) from the GHQ-28 negative scores were offered SCAN Version 2.1. From the total of 52 participants, 44 showed syndromal mental complications and this was higher among the creative (experiment) group but not statistically significant (Table 4A). Among the 8 subjects of GHQ negative, none showed any syndromal mental sickness. Among the mental illnesses investigated, depression and mood disorders were common within every group and substance abuse was observed to be highest among the creative writers (29.5%).

Table 4A: GHQ-28 positivity among the participants (values in brackets are percentages)

Variable control Writers Musicians F/x2 value P value
GHQ positive (true cases) 13(32.4) 17(42.4) 14(34) 0.934 0.626
GHQ negative (non-cases) 27(67.6) 23(57.6) 26(66)    
Creativity 6(14) 33(82.4) 40(100) 71.64 0.001

Table 4B: The SCAN 2.1 diagnosis of various mental illnesses among the groups

4.2. Coping skills for the perceived mental stress

When the stress coping checklist was administered to all the participants various differences emerged between the creative and non-creative groups. The checklist had seven domains, that is, emotion-focused, problem-focused, religion/faith, distraction, social support, denial/blame, and acceptance/redefinition. The result revealed a statistical significant difference among the groups in the faith/religion domain.

Table 5A: Coping skills among the groups and the levels of statistical significance

Variable Control Writers Musicians F value P value
Emotion focused 6.84 ± 2.94 5.94 ± 2.70 6.57 ± 2.09 1.24 0.28
Problem focused 6.76 ± 1.9 6.27 ± 1.67 6.20 ± 1.88 1.08 0.35
Acceptance/redefinition 7.54 ± 1.82 7.04 ±1.91 7.71 ± 1.80 1.33 0.27
Distraction 1.81 ± 1.56 1.64 ± 1.19 1.63 ± 1.14 0.44 0.66
Denial/blame 3.80 ± 1.80 3.54 ± 2.2 3.54 ± 1.84 0.17 0.83
Religion/faith 3.81 ± 1.83 3.44 ± 2.57 2.31 ± 2.30 4.41 .01#*
Social support 3.58 ± 1.65 3.00 ± 1.33 2.92 ± 1.52 2.52 0.09

#musicians vs. control, * musicians vs. writers

From the analysis, the 10 most common coping skills and behaviors that were utilized by each group were noted and coping skills numbered 1, 20,30,52,53, and 54 on the checklist were common to all study groups.

Table 5B: The 10 most common coping behaviors by the control group

No. Coping behaviors Frequency Percent
1 Think over the mental problem again and again in trying to understand it 35 85
7 Seek emotional support and reassurance from other family members 32 81
20 Endeavors to look at the bright side of issues 34 85
27 Praying God for divine intervention 34 85
30 Coming up with a variety of solutions to address the problem 34 84
40 Try to help other in distress or mental problem 35 87.6
45 Turning to work or studies to take the mind off stressing issues 33 82.5
52 Knowing what need to be done, double efforts to make it work 32 80
53 Analyzing the issue and try solving it bit by bit 39 97.5
54 Making an action plan and following it 37 93.5

Table 5C: The 10 most common coping behaviors by Musicians

No Coping Behavior Frequency Percent
1 Think over the mental problem again and again in trying to understand it 34 85
20 Endeavors to look at the bright side of issues 34 85
47 Analyzing the issue and try solving it bit by bit 34 85
57 Taking up or indulging in a hobby (arts, music, etc) when stressed 34 85
52 Knowing what need to be done, double efforts to make it work 34 85
27 Praying God for divine intervention 34 85
53 Analyzing the issue and try solving it bit by bit 33 81.5
29 Listening to music for some comfort 32 80
30 Coming up with a variety of solutions to address the problem 31 77.5
28 Making light of the situation or refusing to more serious about it 31 77.5

Table 5D: The 10 most common coping behaviors by Writers

No. Coping behavior Frequency Percent
20 Endeavors to look at the bright side of issues 36 91
30 Coming up with a variety of solutions to address the problem 36 91
1 Think over the mental problem again and again in trying to understand it 34 85
45 Turning to work or studies to take the mind off stressing issues 32 82.5
53 Analyzing the issue and try solving it bit by bit 32 82.5
47 Finding a meaning or purpose in one’s mental suffering 32 82.5
52 Knowing what need to be done, double efforts to make it work 32 82.5
18 Accepting the next better thing to what one desired 31 77.5
54 Making an action plan and following it 31 77.5
56 Drawing on the past experiences of similar circumstances 29 72.5

The perceived stress levels for each group were examined through Cohen’s Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). From the assessment, writers were found to have the highest score (22.5%) but did not get to the threshold for statistical significance (Table 6).

Table 6: The perceived stress scores for all the groups

Variables Control (%) Writers (%) Musicians (%) F/x2 Value P value
Total PSS 23.04 ± 4.44 20.46 ± 7.75 20.20 ± 6.84 2.45 0.088
PSS negative (<28) 33 (82.5) 32 (80) 36 (90)    
PSS positive (=28) 7(17.5) 8(20) 4(10) 2.37 0.304

From table 6, all the groups scored a PSS negative to a greater extent compared to the PSS positive at the set threshold (p<0.001) measure.

Chapter Five: Discussions, Recommendations, and Conclusion

5.0. Introduction

This chapter discusses various variables on creativity and psychopathology in connection with creative writers and musicians comparing with non-creative general population. This was a case-controlled randomized study. The sample population was selected from the directories of renowned musicians and writers within London. After randomization, the experiment group consisting of 40 eminent writers and 40 musicians from London, it was compared with a random sample of 40 participants from the general London population. Analysis was carried out in the areas of psychopathology, coping skills, and perceived stress scores. In this chapter, the findings are compared to previous studies in the same area. Most of the studies considered for comparison and correlation were large sample sized retrospective biographical research studies. Recommendations for further studies and conclusions are made from the findings in comparison with previous studies.

5.1. Socio-demographics

In terms of gender, the research balanced both sexes in all the groups thus eliminating any gender bias.  Most of the participants (84%) had attained university education or were post graduates.  This means that education is one of the factors that enhanced the creativity of the experiment group. The control group and the music group had similar outcomes in terms of education while the writers group had relatively higher educational attainment. Most of the writers and control group were married and had nuclear families but most of the musicians were single which concurred with findings from previous empirical studies (Post 1994; Charles, Durham-Fowler & Malone 2016). In terms of the family characteristics, it was striking that 100% of the musicians who participated had a history of creativity within the family. The creativity areas revealed included theater, dance, music, and literature. Writers also showed significantly high tendencies of creativity within the family. Moreover, children of these creative participants tend to pursue creative works as a hobby or profession. From the study, it was not established whether music creativity is a trait that is hereditary or there exist environmental issues that enhance creativity. These environmental factors can include adequate creative training, early exposure to creative works, or creativity gives one more opportunities within the environment.

Research studies have revealed a high prevalence of psychopathology within the family of creative people (Akinola & Mendes 2008; Kéri, 2009; Jenkins & Arribas-Ayllon 2016). This study also concurred with such studies by showing higher incidences of mental illness in the families of creative musicians and writers, particularly mood disorders. Depression and mood disorders might the reason why some seemingly creative musicians speaking as if they are insane. However, the current study did not use structured data collection tool to ascertain history of mental disorders within the family of creative participants. The data obtained was anchored on descriptive information supplied by the participants that might be prone to memory bias.

5.2. Correlation Creativity and Mental Illness

The participants were supplied with GHQ-28 for screening psychiatric cases and then SCAN version 2.1was administered to those GHQ positive cases. The prevalence of psychopathology across all the groups was within the same low margin hence not statistically significant.  This was in line Pavitra, Chandrashekar and Choudhury (2007) findings on the fine line between creativity and mental illness. It was noted that earlier studies (Jenkins & Arribas-Ayllon 2016) that revealed high prevalence of psychopathology among musicians and other creative people utilized biographies and their samples were not randomized.

From the present study, majority of the creative subjects who had mental disorders were suffering from depression; moderate or mild depression and dysthymia. This concurred with Greenwood (2016) and Reddy Ukrani, Indla and Ukrani (2018) earlier studies but some had found higher incidences of bipolar spectrum among creative personalities. As to whether the incidences of hypomania could be taken as bursts of inspirations that are short-lived thus boosting creativity prompting participants not to recognize any mental abnormality during such periods requires further investigation. However, the current study utilized a structured interview tool (SCAN 2.1) and no subject showed presence of hypomania or cyclothymia either presently or earlier. This was in line with previous studies (Pavitra, Chandrashekar & Choudhury 2007; Simonton 2014) that found low prevalence of psychopathology among creative musicians. Some found the prevalence similar to the general population. For the present study, it was only one musician diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was on treatment. It was also only one writer who had OCD condition but was treatment.

In the control group, 7 out of 11 subjects, one abusing substances while six had depressive complications, had looked for psychiatric help. However, in the two experiment groups, only two (one with schizophrenia and one with OCD had looked for such help. Suggested reasons for these unique outcomes would the stigma of famous people seeking psychiatric help would earn the ill-fame. Others might fear neurotropics thinking they will hamper their creativity while others believed that one has to be ‘a little mad’ to increase creativity. Other creative musicians and writers would have ascribed to the notion that creative people have greater abilities to overcome stressors by themselves hence no need of seeking psychiatric help.

5.3. Mental stress coping skills

Previous studies have revealed significant effects of psychiatric disorders and treatment on creativity. For instance, some studies revealed that a treatment drug that contains Lithium hampers creativity (Friedman 2014). Consequently, many creative people have found ways of coping with mental disorders without necessarily seeking psychiatric help. There are limited published studies on the coping skills among creative musicians (Pavitra, Chandrashekar, & Choudhury 2007; Potokar et al. 2012). This study explored coping behaviors within the control and experiment groups. Musicians and the control group were found to have depended on similar religious/faith based coping skills. Despite the experiment group having either writing or music as a talent, majority of them did not utilize it during stress periods.  Moreover, it is only when the creative people are out of the mental illness/stress that they can generate creative work. This is against the ‘mad genius’ belief for creative people. The belief is that musicians and writers are possessed with madness as ‘bursts of inspiration’ or intense emotions so as to produce creative works. Some previous studies had corroborated this specific finding. For instance, Potokar et al. (2012) revealed that creative people preferred euthymic mood states to be creative. From the seven domains of the coping skills checklist, those related to acceptance/redefinition and problem focused domains were common to all the three groups. These included items numbered 20, 1,30,53,52, and 54 on the checklist.

5.4. Stress profile

Cohen’s Perceive Stress Scale (PSS) was administered on the three groups to ascertain their stress profiles. From the PSS administration, writers scored the highest percentages (22.4%) but it was not statistically significant. Previous studies had shown higher levels of anxiety and stress within creative musicians (Kyaga et al. 2013; Jauk, Benedek, Dunst & Neubauer 2013).). However, most of such studies did not use a structured tool such as the PSS to measure the perceived stress. Therefore, from the current study, there was not statistically significant perceived stress among the creative groups. The selected musicians and writers showed little signs of current stress or anxiety meaning their creativity was not linked to mental illness.

5.5. Recommendations for future studies

These recommendations are made mainly to improve future studies and point to areas within literature that need more plugging through empirical research. Given that this is a case-controlled experimental study, its findings are more rigorous compared to surveys and qualitative studies that are affected by field assumptions and subjectivity respectively. Based on the findings and limitations of this study, various recommendations were made.

  1. Given that this study found no statistically significant link between mental health and creativity, further epidemiological studies need to be undertaken to eliminate any ascertainment biasness that might have been involved. Moreover, further studies should be carried out to ascertain whether the development of hobbies such as music, dancing or painting enhances mental conditions or coping skills within general populations.
  2. There is need for future studies with wider scopes to include other creative people from related field such as music producers, dancers, theater artists and composers so as to ascertain whether creativity and mental illness have a link or a line. This is because the current study established a clear line between music creativity and mental illness because the link between the two was not supported with statistical evidence.
  3. There is need also important to study creative individuals who take creative activities as their single profession and earning a considerable income from the same. Such studies might uncover further patterns between personality traits and psychiatric disorders.
  4. From the study, it was not established whether music creativity is a trait that is hereditary or there exist environmental factors that enhance creativity. These environmental factors can include adequate creative training, early exposure to creative works, or creativity gives one more opportunities within the environment. Further studies are required to ascertain this. Moreover, the current study did not use structured data collection tool to ascertain history of mental disorders within the family of creative participants. The data obtained was anchored on descriptive information supplied by the participants that might be prone to memory bias. Further studies are required that use structured instruments to collect data and avoid memory biasness.

5.6. Conclusion

The current study utilized a controlled, randomized experimentation approach to investigative the fine line between music creativity and mental health. It included writers so as to have a wide scope that can draw comparative analysis of the results across more than one field. Moreover, the researcher included creative writers so as to establish whether relationship between creativity and mental illness is unique to the music industry or is similar to other fields. From the data analysis, it was clear that creativity within the music industry correlates with mental illness in the same manner as other fields. This is because there were no statistically significant differences between creative writers and musicians within the experimental group for all the tested variables. The differences obtained did not surpass the statistical threshold, with set p<0.001 and corresponding f/x2 minimum values.

From the findings, there was some clinical correlation between creativity and mental illness especially depression and mood disorders for both musicians and writers. However, such correlation did not reach statistical significance to establish a link between these variables. Without the link, the fine line is established between creativity and mental illness. This means that creativity does not increase the chances of one getting mental disorders. Many scholars believe that since creativity engages the mind through a high-level thinking, it eventually results into mental disorders such as madness. However, from this study, such link is weak. For the incidences that creativity musicians and writers have mental challenges there are coping skills they adopt. From the analysis most of the creative people use problem-focused and acceptance domain skills to cope with psychiatric disorders. This means that seeking medical attention is taken as the intervention of last resort.

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