Drafting an award-winning poem, molding sculptures fit for museum shelves, and crafting abstract paintings to rival Picasso—is there a pill for that? Creativity is an enigmatic quality, difficult to define and even harder to pinpoint in the brain.
Professor Rivka Inzelberg of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine has noticed a surprising, and pleasing, trend among her Parkinson’s disease patients. Some being treated with synthetic dopamine precursors or dopamine receptor agonists—drugs used to ease muscle tremors and rigidity—are producing beautiful and sophisticated works of art for the first time in their lives. Inzelberg’s findings will appear in the February issue of Behavioral Neuroscience.
A small-scale Italian study published last year in the European Journal of Neurology found a similar connection between dopamine therapy in Parkinson’s patients and their creation of poetry, novels, paintings, sketches, and sculptures. Dr. Margherita Canesi, the lead study author, noted that some patients became so invested in their newfound passions that they neglected daily activities like house cleaning.
Inzelberg speculates that dopamine lowers patients’ inhibition, allowing them to express artistic talents they never knew they had. Dopamine therapy can sometimes result in a loss of impulse control, which can lead to compulsive gambling or other obsessional hobbies, but Inzleberg and Canesi believe this risk is outweighed by the psychological benefits patients receive when they express themselves through art.
What Does Dopamine Do?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter—a chemical that helps brain cells communicate with one another—that helps regulate muscle movement. Parkinson’s has been linked to the loss of dopamine-secreting cells in the brain.
However, the chemical is also responsible for influencing reward-driven learning; it tells us what reward we can expect in a given situation and floods our brains with pleasurable sensations when we receive it. Certain stimulant drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, act directly on the dopamine system.
The Italian researchers speculate that increased dopamine levels sometimes translate into artistic creativity because drawing, painting, sculpting, and other techniques are both repetitive and reward-driven. Accolades from family members, museum-goers, and even your doctors are certainly a motivating factor.
Could We Ever Make a 'Creativity Pill'?
These observations and study results seem to suggest that a flood of dopamine in the brain allows people to hyperfocus on tasks of their choosing. However, much more research will be required before drug companies consider investing in a dopamine-based “brain boosting” medication.
Perhaps it would be better if that day never came. Imagine what would happen if we all became poet laureates effortlessly and in the blink of an eye!
If you’re looking to become more creative naturally, be sure to:
- Reduce your stress through meditation or deep breathing.
- Get adequate sleep every night to keep your mind sharp.
- Take a writing, painting, or sculpting class at your local community college.
- Experiment with new artistic outlets, including music and dance.