Probing the creative brain

BY Jenny Marder  July 25, 2014 at 12:49 PM EDT

On the NewsHour tonight, in collaboration with The Atlantic, a researcher examines why creativity and mental illness is often linked.

“As a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who studies creativity, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many gifted and high-profile subjects over the years, but Kurt Vonnegut—dear, funny, eccentric, lovable, tormented Kurt Vonnegut—will always be one of my favorites.”

So begins the Atlantic piece, “Secrets of the Creative Brain,” an in-depth look at the science of genius and why creativity and mental illness so often go hand in hand. Its writer is Dr. Nancy Andreasen, who has done groundbreaking neuro-imaging research on this link.

In collaboration with the Atlantic, the NewsHour will air a piece tonight on Andreasen’s research, which looks at prominent writers, such as Kurt Vonnegut and John Cheever, their personal and family histories of mental illness and the role these conditions may play in their art. Judy Woodruff spent time with Andreasen recently in her lab.

Among the questions Andreasen addresses in her research: “What differences in nature and nurture can explain why some people suffer from mental illness and some do not?” she writes in the Atlantic piece. “And why are so many of the world’s most creative minds among the most afflicted?”

This is part of a NewsHour series on the science of the brain. On Thursday, the NewsHour aired a discussion on the largest study yet to look at genes associated with schizophrenia. On Wednesday, Miles O’Brien reported on scientists who study the brains of fruit flies and zebrafish.