Hostname: page-component-7d8f8d645b-2q4x6 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-05-27T17:06:52.341Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Creativity and Psychopathology a Study of 291 World-Famous Men

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Felix Post*
Emeritus Physician, The Bethlem Royal Hospital and the Maudsley Hospital, London
Dr Felix Post, 7 Leeward Gardens, London SW19 7QR



This investigation sought to determine the prevalences of various psychopathologies in outstandingly creative individuals, and to test a hypothesis that the high prevalence of mental abnormalities reported in prominent living creative persons would not be found in those who had achieved and retained world status.


The family background, physical health, personality, psychosexuality and mental health of 291 famous men in science, thought, politics, and art were investigated. The membership of the six series of scientists and inventors, thinkers and scholars, statesmen and national leaders, painters and sculptors, composers, and of novelists and playwrights was determined by the availability of sufficiently adequate biographies. Extracted data were transformed into diagnoses in accordance with DSM–III–R criteria, when appropriate.


All excelled not only by virtue of their abilities and originality, but also of their drive, perseverance, industry, and meticulousness. With a few exceptions, these men were emotionally warm, with a gift for friendship and sociability. Most had unusual personality characteristics and, in addition, minor ‘neurotic’ abnormalities were probably more common than in the general population. Severe personality deviations were unduly frequent only in the case of visual artists and writers. Functional psychoses were probably less frequent than psychiatric epidemiology would suggest, and they were entirely restricted to the affective varieties. Among other functional disorders, only depressive conditions, alcoholism, and, less reliably, psychosexual problems were more prevalent than expected in some professional categories, but strikingly so in writers.


Similar findings have been reported for living artists and writers, and this suggests that certain pathological personality characteristics, as well as tendencies towards depression and alcoholism, are causally linked to some kinds of valuable creativity.

Research Article
Copyright © Royal College of Psychiatrists, 1994 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Altman, D. G. (1991) Randomisation: Essential for reducing bias. British Medical Journal, 302, 14811482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
American Psychiatric Association (1987) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd edn, revised) (DSM–III–R). Washington, DC: APA.Google ScholarPubMed
Anderson, E. W. (1971) Strindberg's illness. Psychological Medicine, 1, 104117.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Andreasen, N. C. (1973) James Joyce: A portrait of the artist as a schizoid. Journal of the American Medical Association, 224, 6771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Andreasen, N. C. (1987) Creativity and mental illness: prevalence rates in writers and their first-degree relatives. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 12881296.Google ScholarPubMed
Baker, G. (1969) Ernest Hemingway: A life-study. London: Collins.Google Scholar
Becker, G. (1978) The Mad Genius Controversy: A study in the Sociology of Deviance. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
Blakemore, C. (1988) The Mind Machine. London: BBC Books.Google Scholar
Brown, D. (1991) Tchaikovsky: A Biographical and Critical Study (IV). London: Victor Gollancz.Google Scholar
Cabanne, P. (1963) Van Gogh (English translation). London: Thames & Hudson.Google Scholar
Claridge, G., Pryor, R. & Watkins, G. (1990) Sounds from the Bell Jar. Basingstoke: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clark, R. W. (1980) Freud: The Man and the Cause. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.Google Scholar
Creed, F., Guthrie, E., Black, D. & Tranmer, H. (1993) Psychiatric referrals within the general hospital: comparisons with referrals to general practitioners. British Journal of Psychiatry, 162, 204211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Eastwood, M. R. & Kramer, P. M. (1981) Epidemiology and depression. Psychological Medicine, 11, 227234.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Eaton, H. W., Dryman, A., Sorenson, A., et al (1989) DSM–III Major Depressive Disorders in the community: A latent class analysis of data from the NIMH Epidemiological Catchment Area Programme. British Journal of Psychiatry, 155, 4854.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Ellman, R. (1959) James Joyce. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Eysenck, H. J. (1983) The roots of creativity: cognitive ability or personality trait? Roeper Review, (May), pp. 1012.Google Scholar
Freeman, H. (1991) The human brain and political behaviour. British Journal of Psychiatry, 159, 1932.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gastaut, H. (1956) La maladie de Vincent van Gogh envisagée à la lumière des conceptions nouvelles sur l'épilepsie psychomotrice. Annales Medico-Psychologiques, 114, 196238.Google Scholar
Hare, E. (1976) Michael Faraday's loss of memory. Proceedings of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, 49, 3352.Google Scholar
Hare, E. (1987) Creativity and mental illness. British Medical Journal, 295, 15871589.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Higgit, A. & Fonagy, P. (1992) Psychotherapy in borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. British Journal of Psychiatry, 161, 2343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jamison, K. R. (1989) Mood disorders and patterns of creativity in British writers and artists. Psychiatry, 32, 125134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jamison, K. R. (1993) Touched with Fire. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
Jamison, K. R. & Wyatt, R. J. (1992) Vincent van Gogh's illness. British Medical Journal, 304, 577.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Johnson, A. M., Wadsworth, J., Wellinos, K., et al (1992) Sexual life style and HIV risk. Nature, 360, 410412.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Juda, A. (1949) The relationship between highest mental capacity and psychic abnormalities. American Journal of Psychiatry, 106, 296304.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Juda, A. (1953) Hoechstbegabung: Ihre Erbverhaeltnisse sowie ihre Beziehungeg zu psychischen Anomalien. Muenchen: Urban & Schwarzenberg.Google Scholar
Kessel, N. (1989) Genius and mental disorder: a history of ideas concerning their conjunction. In Genius: The History of an Idea (ed. Murray, P.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
Lerner, M. (1975) Maupassant. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
Lewis, S. J. & Harder, D. W. (1991) A comparison of four measures to diagnose DSM–III–R borderline personality disorder in out-patients. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 179, 329337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Loftus, L. S. & Arnold, W. N. (1991) Vincent van Gogh's illness: acute intermittent porphyria? British Medical Journal, 303, 15891591.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lucas, E. G. (1987) Alcohol in industry. British Medical Journal, 294, 460461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Paykel, E. S. & Priest, R. G. (1992) Recognition and management of depressions in general practice: Consensus statement. British Medical Journal, 305, 11981202.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Payne, R. (1973) The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. London: Jonathan Cape.Google Scholar
Regier, D. A., Myers, J. K., Kramer, M., et al (1984) The NIMH Epidemiological Catchment Area program: Historical context, major objectives, and study of population characteristics. Archives of General Psychiatry, 41, 934941.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Reich, J., Nduaguba, M. & Yates, W. (1988) Age and sex distribution of DSM–III cluster traits in a community population. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 29, 298303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Slater, E. (1970) The problems of pathography. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica (suppl. 219), 209215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Slater, E. (1979) The creative personality. In Psychiatry, Genetics and Pathography (eds Roth, M. & Cowie, V.). London: Gaskell Press.Google Scholar
Slater, E. & Meyer, A. (1959) Contribution to a pathography of the musicians: 1. Robert Schumann. Confinia Psychiatrica, 2, 6594.Google Scholar
Slater, E. & Meyer, A. (1960) Contributions to a pathography of the musicians: 2. Organic and psychotic disorders. Confinia Psychiatrica, 3, 129145.Google Scholar
Storr, A. (1988) The School of Genius. London: Andre Deutsch.Google Scholar
Taylor, R. (1982) Robert Schumann: His Life and Work. London: Granada.Google Scholar
Tyrer, P., Casey, P. & Ferguson, R. (1991) Personality disorder in perspective. British Journal of Psychiatry, 155, 463471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wittchen, H. H. & Essau, C. (1992) The epidemiology of neurosis, benzodiazepine use and abuse. In Benzodiazepine Dependence: A Multi-author Book (ed. Hallström, C.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
World Health Organization (1983) World Health Statistics Annual. Geneva: WHO.Google ScholarPubMed
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.