Header image  

Psychosis is a perceptually-intense and altered state of consciousness. In a traditional sense, it has a negative connotation since it is most often associated with mental illness or "insanity". Psychosis can also be a state of great creativity by virtue of its underlying neurochemical basis. Psychosis is marked by an acute increase in the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, involved in learning and novelty detection. Thus, in a state of increased dopamine, learning (or the formation of associations) is heightened.
Usually, dopamine is produced by particular brain regions to cue the individual that a particular event or stimulus is salient and needs to be sought after or avoided, depending on the context. When these particular brain regions produce too much dopamine, the individual experiences a heightened sense of salience and often makes aberrant, non-stimulus driven associations.
Psychosis is most common in schizophrenia, a mental disorder marked by increased and altered production of dopamine. Therefore, individuals with schizophrenia accumulate experiences of 'aberrant' novelty which later become crystallized into delusions (i.e. false beliefs). Psychosis can also be brought about by psychotropic drugs which alter dopamine production in the brain for example, psychedelic drugs including ketamine and stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamine.
Psychosis is accompanied by a sense of increased novelty and sensory awareness. If the sense of increased novelty and sensory awareness does not impair an individual's emotional and cognitive functions, it can also be a source of creative thinking. The neural dynamics underlying this altered state of consciousness are studied to first, understand mental illness and the phenomenology of schizophrenia, and secondly, to determine the link between dopamine production, increased sensory awareness and creativity.

Scream (Edvard Munch)