connection between exceptional creativity and certain varieties of mental illness, especially depression and other mood disorders.

Some researchers now suspect that this ability to stand outside of one’s immediate context and take a longer historical view, like other forms of genius, may have physical correlates in the brain. Neuroscientist Nancy C. Andreasen recently wrote that her study of the brains of highly creative people suggests that they excel at “recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see.” In objective terms, this shows up as much stronger activations (compared to a control group) in the association cortices, extensive regions on the outer surface of the brain that “interpret and make use of the specialized information collected by the primary visual, auditory, sensory, and motor regions.”

This cultural stereotype goes back at least as far as the Greeks, and it would seem to fit the examples of both Lincoln and Einstein. The former was well known for his melancholic disposition, and today would likely be diagnosed with clinical depression, while the latter had a family history of schizophrenia and (in Andreasen’s judgment) appeared to manifest some mild or borderline symptoms.

Martin Luther King suffered from depressive episodes too, attempted suicide at least once, and some evidence suggests that Gandhi also suffered from depression.

Whether this connection is also rooted in brain activation patterns and processing speed is an unanswered but fascinating question.