High Motivation Linked to Creativity in Bipolar Disorder

A considerable amount of research suggests that bipolar disorder (BD) is linked to creativity. However, not much is known yet about the underlying mechanisms that may facilitate heightened creativity among those with BD or those at risk for developing it. Many have speculated that creative abilities associated with BD may be influenced by cognitive advantages that occur during mania, such as an influx of ideas and increased stamina. In a recent paper in the Journal of Affective Disorders, Ruiter & Johnson (2015) suggest that creativity may be linked to the alternate sorts of motivations that are common amongst those with BD. They suggest that inherent differences in motivation in such individuals with BD may act as an impetus for creative accomplishments. To explore this link between creativity and BD, Ruiter & Johnson administered a large battery of questionnaires that measured participants’ lifetime creative achievements, personality traits related to creativity, and their levels of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation involves having the desire to partake in a task or activity because one finds it personally rewarding and stimulating. While a person is engaged in activities that produce intrinsic rewards, they often have the experience of achieving greater insight, and what is sometimes referred to as ‘flow.’ Flow is described as a feeling of pleasure associated with being fully focused and absorbed within a task (e.g., the person may not notice the passage of time). Many creative pursuits present the opportunity for one to be rewarded intrinsically. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, describes motivation that is influenced by forces outside of an individual, whereby a person is driven to perform a given behaviour because of external rewards such as money, or social recognition.

Based on the self-reports of participants in their study, Ruiter & Johnson suggest that creativity in individuals with BD may be partly attributed to such individuals having higher levels of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Participants with BD and those considered vulnerable to developing BD were shown to set remarkably higher goals, exhibited prolonged engagement when executing tasks, were more highly motivated to pursue rewards, and tended to value exceptionally higher lifetime aspirations than those without BD. They also found that BD was related to social dominance, in that individuals with BD demonstrated a longing to have their creative achievements positively regarded by others, and that this desire appeared to help facilitate success.

Ruiter & Johnson also cleverly point out that drawing attention to the creativity that is commonly associated with BD may help reduce the stigma associated with this illness.

Ruiter, M., & Johnson, S. L. (2015). Mania risk and creativity: A multi-method study of the role of motivation. Journal of Affective Disorders, 170, 52-58. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2014.08.049


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