Bipolar and Intelligence

While making my daily blog reading rounds, I came across an interesting entry from Natasha Tracy who writes a fantastic, award-winning blog called Breaking Bipolar.  Her June 23rd entry tackled a subject I’ve long been interested in: Are People with Bipolar Disorder More Intelligent?

Although bipolar herself, Natasha takes the position, “…I’m sorry to say, the truth is, people with bipolar disorder are actually cognitively impaired compared to the average individual.”  She supports this stance by declaring, “…you need a definition for intelligence…The intelligent quotient (IQ) is not generally considered one of those things. So scientists measure “cognitive deficits.” In other words, they take a very specific component of brain function and measure it. Examples include vocabulary, memory, spatial reasoning and cognitive speed. “Intelligence” itself is a moving target and open to interpretation.”

I pondered this for a while and I do agree that for BPs, cognitive functioning is often impaired (especially by medication), but decided that if vocabulary, spatial reasoning and cognitive speed collectively were not some of the markers for intelligence, then all of those tests I’ve taken along the years must have been wrong…including the IQ tests.

I know in my gut that we BPs are more intelligent than the a-ver-age bear, so I went out and did some research to find some evidence, and I think I may have found just the source to prove it.  A study from the Institute on Psychiatry at King’s College London and from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden in 2010 has shown that there may in fact be a link between mental disorders like bipolar disorder and having a high IQ or being highly creative.

They reviewed the final exam results from Swedish students, ages fifteen to sixteen, who attended high school between 1988 and 1997. The teams compared these outcomes with the admissions of bipolar patients, ages seventeen to thirty-one. They discovered that students who obtained “A” grades on the exams were almost four times as likely to be admitted for bipolar disorder as those who achieved average grades. The researchers made an even stronger case for the link by factoring in the income and education levels of the students’ parents. Further, they found that those students who obtained very low exam grades were also more likely to develop bipolar disorder than those with average grades.

Which means this study also overlaps somewhat with another subject I’ve written about, depression and socioeconomic position.

In ‘Abnormal Psychology, Current Perspectives’ the demographic profile of bipolar disorder is discussed; “bipolar disorder is more prevalent among higher socioeconomic groups.”

The fact that bipolar disorder is more common among people in affluent families is important as affluence is directly related to intelligence and intelligence is directly related to genetics.

So, what does everyone think?  While it’s not always the case, are BP brains prone to higher IQs?

People who are affected by mood disorder are absolutely more intelligent than those I term the “norms”. Think of all of things that you accomplish when you’re in a manic or even hypomanic episode. Lack of sleep brings it on, so therefore, when a major paper or project is due, you get it done and do it well. People with mood disorders are also more inclined to have creative outlets and be more inclined to participate in areas of the arts. All of these arts areas reinforce basic principals of math (found in music, art, theater), reading and language (found in writing and art), spatial reasoning (found in art, dance, and theater), fine motor skills (found in art and music), and gross motor skills (found in art, dance, theater, music, and theater), All of these areas raise cognitive functioning. And we continue to use them as outlets to keep us sharp, even when our medications are taking a toll. I don’t think it necessarily steals our intelligence as much as it slows our processing.

Remember what Oscar Levant said, “There is a fine line between genius and insanity.”

my wife is bipolar and so am I, she is 17 years older than me and has way more energy as she does not take medication and I do and just feel depressed, I see my wife as quite intelligent, but I do not see myself as smarter than average, maybe even on the low side of intelligence, one time what I did do was I had an idea for scented garbage bags and emailed and faxed all the plastic bag companies then 2 years later they came out with scented garbage bags, but I look at things as low hanging fruit and anyone could do something if the fruit is low, I do not consider myself intelligent but I do not think people are stupid just different, one of my biggest problems is that I equal intelligence with success, but I bet there are a lot of average people who are successful and highly intelligent people who are not and that leads to depression, such as the bipolar thing.


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