Parkinson’s Medication Spurs Art Skills

Paintings by various Parkinson's patients. Photo: courtesy the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, via the Atlantic.

Neurologists have noted a surge of artistic creativity among Parkinson’s patients being treated with levodopa, a synthetic dopamine-precursor pill, reports the Atlantic. As unlikely as it may seem, the correlation between this particular variety of dopamine and increased creative activity, both in artwork and in writing, has been noted by a number of experts.

A new study, published this week in the Annals of Neurology journal by Rivka Inzelberg, a professor at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, defines creativity as a blend of originality, flexibility, and the impulse to merge novel and practical ideas. Inzelberg accessed her subjects’ creativity based on their responses to word association tests and their interpretation of abstract images and metaphors.

One concern was whether such artistic urges could have a tendency to become obsessions. “The medication can cause a loss of impulse control,” Inzelberg told the Atlantic, so “we wanted to check if there was a correlation between creativity measures and impulsivity and compulsivity measures.”

Despite at least one independent report in which a woman described her “devastating addiction to painting,” Inzelberg did not observe any relationship between increased creativity and reduced impulse control.

What she did notice was that the higher patient’s dopamine dose, the more creativity they demonstrated. The correlation makes a certain amount of sense, given that prolific authors such as Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf struggled with bipolar disorder, which is treated by blocking dopamine.

Though a struggling artist might be tempted to pick up a dopamine subscription, Inzelberg warns that the effects are untested outside the Parkinson’s community. “If a normal person takes these medications and tries to become creative,” she warns, “well, we don’t know if that would work.”

 


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