Children with or at risk for bipolar disorder may be more creative than other, healthy children, according to a new study.

Researchers found that a small group of children of bipolar parents scored significantly higher on a creativity index than other children. They say the findings add to a growing evidence of a link between mood disorders, like bipolar disorder, and creativity.

"I think it's fascinating," says researcher Kiki Chang, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, in a news release. "There is a reason that many people who have bipolar disorder become very successful.”

Researchers say many eminent artists, writers, and other creative individuals have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which is marked by dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function.

But they say this is the first study to look at creativity in the children of bipolar parents, who are at increased risk of developing the disorder.

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In the study, which appears in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, researchers examined creative characteristics in 40 families with at least one parent with bipolar disorder and their children. They compared them with 18 healthy adults and 18 of their healthy children. The children in the study ranged in age from 9 to 18.

Half of the children of bipolar parents also had the disorder, and the other half had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Researchers say ADHD is often considered an early sign of bipolar disorder in children of parents with the condition.

All of the participants received a psychological evaluation and then completed a test that objectively measures creativity. The scoring is based on how people like or dislike figures of varying complexity and symmetry. Studies suggest that more creative people tend to “dislike” simple and symmetrical figures.

The results showed that the bipolar parents had 120% higher “dislike” scores than the healthy parents. Children with bipolar disorder and those with ADHD scored 107% and 91% higher, respectively, than the healthy children.

Researchers say the creativity found in people with bipolar disorder may stem from the mobilizing energy needed to transform negative emotion into some sort of solution to their problems.

"In this case, discontent is the mother of invention," says researcher Terence Ketter, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, in the release.

Bipolar Disorder Health Center

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Simeonova, D. Journal of Psychiatric Research, November 2005; vol 39: pp 623-631. News release, Stanford University.