The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Creativity – Introducing a new CREST.BD study

on September 20, 2017 2 comments
The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Creativity – Introducing a new CREST.BD study

The Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research has provided funding for a dual university project that focuses on the driving mechanisms behind creativity in bipolar disorder.

Although research has emerged to suggest that people with bipolar disorder and their family members are more likely to be creative than the general public, less is known as to why this may be. Given our past successful collaborations, which have been inspired by the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research, researchers at the University of California (UC) Berkeley and the University of British Columbia (UBC) are teaming up once again to better understand the links between bipolar disorder and creativity.  With funding from the Sean Costello fund, Sheri Johnson (UC) and Erin Michalak (UBC) are joined by myself, Manon Ironside (UC) and Luke Clark (UBC) to investigate whether motivation can help explain the higher levels of creativity often observed in people living with bipolar disorder.  More specifically, we will focus on understanding peoples’ responses to potential rewards. Our earlier work has suggested that people with bipolar disorder tend to display higher levels of investment in earning rewards in life, and this appears to be associated with higher levels of creative accomplishment. We will use new tools from neurocognitive science to assess whether people with bipolar disorder are willing to work harder for potential rewards, and whether people with bipolar disorder tend to spend more time exploring novel options than sticking with familiar ones as they move toward a goal.

In this study, we will work with people diagnosed with bipolar disorder and, and to compare our findings, with another group of people who do not live with the condition.  We will reach out to highly creative people; for instance, musicians and artists, or people who study in similar areas to participate in our study. Each participant will complete measures of creativity (for example: history of engagement in creative occupations, lifetime creative accomplishments, and ability to solve creative puzzles), and other measures to test for the tendency to explore and willingness to work harder in potentially rewarding, but unknown situations. In addition to these measures, we will assess peoples’ history and current status of bipolar disorder and related treatments. Each participant will likely have to spend a few hours with the team to provide in-depth information about these key questions.

Our group is excited to bring together experts with different perspectives to help better understand the links between creativity and bipolar disorder. Understanding more about the types of processes that support creativity in bipolar disorder will help better guide treatment approaches. For example, if it is seen that people with bipolar disorder may display a greater willingness to work harder for rewards, such behaviours could then be tracked to improve treatments and outcomes.

Our research group is very excited to have the support from the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research. This funding will help provide reimbursements for participants and to pay for the equipment needed to conduct the tests. Without these resources, this research would not be possible.  The team hopes to share its insights and discoveries next year.

If you’d like to know more about our study, or would like to  participate, get in touch with us to register your interest via the respective contact below, we’ll be launching recruitment for the project soon!


UC Berkeley location (CALM Lab):

Manon Ironside

(510) 542-8969



2 Comments on “The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Creativity – Introducing a new CREST.BD study”

  1. This field of study/research sounds very promising. As a young 73 year old man who loves to write poetry and stories with a passion, I’d love to participate in such a project if it’s at all possible.

    • stay tuned Raymond! Although the study is currently only planning on recruiting in Berkeley and Vancouver, we’re looking into developing a web-version so we can include participants from other geographies.

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