Source: Redfield, Kay., Ketter, Terence., and Whybrow, Peter. “Music and the Brain.” Depression and Creativity Symposium. Library of Congress. 2009/02/03 http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=4516
This "Depression and Creativity" symposium marked the bicentennial of the birth of composer Felix Mendelssohn, who died after a severe depression following the death of his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. Kay Redfield Jamison, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, began the presentation by explaining related depressive illnesses, such as Bipolar Disorder, and how depressive illnesses in general, has a connection with creativity. She explained that the creative cycle affects the biological and psychological aspects of creativity. Studies of living artists in creativity assist in discovering mood disorders and creativity. The argument she presented, was that artists and writers (poets in particular), suffer from depressing illnesses. And bipolar disorder left untreated, worsens.
Treatment for all patients (therapy suggested with medical drugs) is possible, as meaningful choices rather than alcohol and illegal drugs. Mood disorders is genetic, and never simply, one symptom. Patterns of symptoms occur over time. Redfield presented examples of Schumann and Van Gogh (along with Hemingway and Virginia Wolfe,) as sufferers of depressive/bipolar illnesses. The risk of no treatment is suicide.
Terence Ketter, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and chief of the Bipolar Disorders Clinic at Stanford University School of Medicine, presented brain imaging research technique in mood disorders. His presentation was called, “Feelings and Thinking Mechanisms of Creativity on Bipolar Disorder.” He first began proposing that bipolar issues include a feelings piece and a thinking piece.
Ketter described his study design, with 32 bipolar, 42 healthy control, 21 unipolar, and 22 creative controls as samples. He used the following assessments: Barron/Welsh Art Scale (BWAS) (use “like” and “dislike” to drawings), Five Factor Personality Model (NEO-PI), Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) (used by psychologists, not psychiatrics), Akiskal Temperament Scale (TEMPS-A) (used by psychiatrics). For the sake of his audience, he went into detail in describing (with simplified jargon), how each assessment works.
In Ketter’s findings, he explained that, women are more feeling, men are more thinking; more dislikes (of artwork) were presented in the Barron Welsh assessment, in addition to more changeable feelings. Ketter concluded that creativity is enhanced in bipolar disorder. The contributors are negative, changeable feelings; intuitive, open-minded thinking; and the emerging neuroanatomy.
Peter Whybrow, director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), called his presentation, “The Creative Cycle.” He began with introducing Mendelssohn’s musical history, and the posed the question, “What is he so different? What drove this man?” Whybrow consistently referred back to The Creative Cycle:
Working memory —> Cognitive Control (Habit inhibition) —> Novel ideas —> (back to working memory). He believes that, emotion connects to the brain that connects to the world around us. One must break up habit in order for creativity, though we are creatures of habit.
Whybrow began his research studies first with animals (songbirds), then to humans (children). For example, songbirds teach each other how to sing, a courtship behaviour follows. Genes affect language and speech. Whybrow simply explained that, his research resulted in the difference between patients in: Generating music vs. Generating sound; Read/speak words vs. Read music/play music; Compose sentences in the head vs. compose music in the head. He ended the presentation by describing Schumann, Van Vogh, and Mendelssohn’s respective illnesses. Whybrow touched on Redfield’s initial statement that, “mental illness is not equivalent with creativity.” He verified it by stating that the individual has to have many other things, that the mental illness can sometimes change the nature of the creativity.
Of all the presentations, I appreciated Whybrow’s “Creative Cycle” the most, as he looked into how working memory, cognitive control, and novel ideas all tie in with one another. The fact that he first observes animal behaviour and then, dive into human behaviour, I appreciate the fact that he compares between animals and humans, in how we treat music and creativity. He did mention though, that singing in songbirds are innate -- an expectation of the animal. The complexity lies then, in the fact that perhaps, singing for songbirds cannot be categorized as “creativity.” Humans on the other hand, may or may not embrace the art of creativity. Measuring creativity in humans would be much more complex, and perhaps, immeasurable.
With Ketter’s research of overall, 117 subjects, deem quite small for research. Also, the Barron/Welsh assessment method seems, arbitrary with the subjects. How many times were the assessment made on each subject? When was the assessment made (time of day, season, month, etc.)? Why were there more female subjects than males? How does like/disliking photos measure creativity? In the BWAS assessment, why were the gray matter density of the brain looked into, with 25 healthy volunteers? What about the “unhealthy” volunteers?
Redfield had most personality and humour in her presentation. Even though she did not present any of her research, she began the presentation well by giving non-musicians background information of Mendelssohn and other artists with depressive illnesses. She went to explain the history of depressive illness research and how artists and writers, especially poets, suffered disproportionately from depressive illnesses. By doing so, she catered to the non-scientists in the room, to give background information of this workshop.
What I appreciated most about this workshop, are the facts about the artists, and presented detailed information (by Redfield and Whybrow). It helped in connecting, and even, sympathizing with the artist and/or writer, that suffered through depressive moments. They presented facts of when bipolar disorder typically begins, and how they patients experience episodes, then back to normal functioning in between (hypomania and mania). Presenters also explained in a graph, of how Schumann, would produce music during his periods of hypomania. Simplifying this information for those interested in the musical aspect of this research, supports connection between the audience and its findings.
All in all, because the presentation was almost two hours long, I feel that the research could have been split between focusing solely, on depressive illnesses alone (with Mendelssohn), with another presentation on bipolar disorders (with Hemingway, Van Gogh, and Schumann) for the audience to clearly grasp the overall large amount of facts and findings. Even though the symposium was presented with to commemorate Mendenssohn, perhaps the symposium could focus solely on the composer and his depression.