Dopamine therapy triggers a blossoming of artistic production in some people with Parkinson’s disease (PD), according to a study in the March issue of the European Journal of Neurology. By stimulating reward-seeking areas of the brain, dopamine may unmask innate artistic talents, the researchers say.
When some people with PD begin dopamine therapy, they experience a burst in creativity and spend much of their day pursuing artistic endeavors such as drawing, painting, sculpture, or writing. This newly acquired artistic focus can interfere with their social life and daily duties. In some respects, this behavior resembles impulse control disorders (ICDs) and punding — a compulsive fascination with repetitive mechanical tasks.
So, Italian researchers led by Margherita Canesi, M.D., questioned whether enhanced artistic production in PD results from increased impulsivity, possibly associated with ICDs, or from a triggering of innate artistic skills. Dr. Canesi and colleagues recruited 36 controls (people living without Parkinson’s) and 36 people with Parkinson’s. They excluded from the study established artists and people who had artistic hobbies before Parkinson’s diagnosis. Of the 36 people with Parkinson’s, the group included 18 with and 18 without enhanced artistic production after beginning dopaminergic therapy. The researchers considered artistic production to be enhanced if people spent more than two hours a day working on any form of art after they began dopaminergic treatment.
Dr. Canesi and coworkers used several tests of creativity in the study. They used the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TCTT) to score study participants in features of creativity such as flexibility, fluidity, originality, and elaboration. To investigate impulsivity, they used tests called the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS-11A), the Minnesota Impulsive Disorders Interview (MIDI) and the Punding Rating Scale. In particular, MIDI was used to investigate compulsive sexual behavior, compulsive buying, extreme expressions of anger, and pathological gambling.
- Most participants (78 percent) produced more than one form of artwork with 83 percent creating drawings/paintings, 28 percent making sculptures, and 50 percent writing poetry/novels.
- The quality of the artwork ranged from good to poor. Some participants who produced high-quality creative work sold their art and/or published their books.
- People with Parkinson’s who showed enhanced artistic production had a total mean TTCT creativity score similar to that of healthy controls. However, people with PD who did not show enhanced artistic production had a lower total mean TTCT score than the other two groups.
- The TTCT creativity scores did not correlate with either the BIS-11A or MIDI measures of impulsivity.
- None of the study participants displayed behaviors measured by the Punding Rating Scale.
What Does It Mean?
This study suggests that newly acquired artistic production in people with Parkinson’s is not associated with impulsivity or ICDs. Therefore, artistic overproduction in people undergoing dopamine treatment should not be considered a “red flag” for repetitive disorders. Rather, dopaminergic therapy may cause innate artistic skills to emerge in people predisposed to such talents.
These findings also suggest that, although symptoms of PD can suppress creativity, dopamine increases creative thinking in some individuals to a level observed in healthy people without PD. In addition, dopamine apparently increases the motivational drive to produce artwork in some people, which may be related to the drug’s known effects in stimulating reward-seeking areas of the brain. Genetics may predispose some people with PD to these creativity-stimulating effects.
The implications of the study may not be restricted only to people with PD. If these findings are replicated in larger cohorts, dopamine based treatment may be studied for people with (and without) PD who report decreased motivation and creativity.
The study does have some limitations. The researchers acknowledge that the creativity test they used may not be the best way to evaluate creative thinking. A prior study indicated that this test evaluates divergent thinking and novelty-seeking behavior, rather than intuitive creativity. Nor does the creativity test provide information on the quality of artistic productions. Also, because the researchers had strict guidelines for selecting participants, the study was very small. Therefore, further studies are needed to support these preliminary observations.
Note from PDF
Do you find that creative activities - such as painting, drawing, dancing, singing, making jewelry or playing an instrument - actually ease your Parkinson's symptoms? PDF's Creativity and Parkinson's Project, encourages those living with Parkinson’s to explore their creativity and its potentially beneficial effects. More than 300 individuals have shared their works on our online gallery.
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