Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Madness and Creativity: Current Concepts about a Linkage

Patrick D. Brophy, Claire A. Etaugh.

Humans seem to have a romantic need to link madness with creativity. Mental illness and creativity are ambiguous terms which are often associated and a hypothesized linkage between them has long fascinated persons across disciplines. Some reviewers have criticized assertions associating creativity and mental illness, while others have popularized genius as born of madness. Recent research has demonstrated that creative achievers tend not to screen out or ignore what less creative persons call "irrelevant details" and are thereby more likely to associate facts, concepts, techniques, themes, and questions in novel and valued ways. Creative persons engage in what has been called "combinatory play" with most of the combinations being dead-ends, and at least temporarily wasted. To a large degree these associations are unconscious (by definition) during incubation. Creative persons in science, the fine arts, and in the humanities have more associations available for any given stimulus. An extreme, yet similar, "loosening of associations" is the sine qua non of some major mental illnesses. Creative people have what are called flat associative hierarchies while persons low in creativity produce steep associative hierarchies with any given stimulus eliciting only a few prototypic associations. The capacity to screen from consciousness stimuli previously experienced as irrelevant is termed "latent inhibition." Recent research indicates creative persons have reduced levels of latent inhibition and are thereby are able to produce wider and more varied associations to familiar stimuli.


Patrick D. Brophy  (United States)
Associate Professor of Psychology
Humanities and Social Sciences Department
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Associate Professor of Psychology at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology since 1973. Teaches psychology courses and also has active private practice in forensic psychology.

Claire A. Etaugh  (United States)

Bradley University

  • Madness
  • Creativity

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)