Critical Article Review: Investigating the Interaction between Schizotypy, Divergent Thinking and Cannabis Use
Cannabis use has been linked to increased schizotypy and elevated levels of psychosis during instances of chronic use. Individuals who are creative tend to exhibit higher schizotypy levels; nevertheless, the association between creativity, schizotypy and cannabis use is yet to be explored empirically. Schafer et al (2012) undertook a study to explore the effects of cannabis smoked in a naturalistic setting on divergent thinking (a measure of creativity) and schizotypy. The methodology entailed testing 160 cannabis users on one day when sober and on another day when under the influence of cannabis. Schafer et al (2012) administered both the trait and state measures of both creativity and schizotypy. Schafer et al (2012) examined the effects that cannabis use has on the interplaying variables of state creativity and state schizotypy by comparing the quartile splits between the lowest (n=47) and the highest (n=43) with respect to trait activity. State creativity was investigated using divergent and convergent thinking respectively: verbal fluency and Remote Associates Task (RAT). The findings pointed out that cannabis use increased the symptoms associated with psychosis in both groups, and that the high creativity group exhibited relatively higher trait schizotypy; however, this is not related to the change in verbal fluency. The findings also pointed out a positive correlation between acute cannabis use and divergent thinking.
Cannabis has been a subject of media attention and researchers because of evidence linking its use with dependence and psychosis (Axelrod, Grilo, Sanislow, & McGlashan, 2001). However, scientific literature and anecdotal evidence points out that cannabis may be used to enhance creativity. Despite the contention regarding the relationship between cannabis use and creativity, this link is yet to be studies extensively by researchers; this is because there is no consensus regarding the definition and objective measurement of creativity. The review of literature by Schafer et al (2012) suggested that that, neither the impacts of cannabis on creativity nor the mechanisms through which cannabis induces psychotomimetic creativity is yet to be explored and well understood. Nevertheless, Schafer et al (2012) hypothesized that cannabis use results in psychotomimetic systems that results in linking apparently unconnected concepts, which is a characteristic of divergent thinking that constitutes creative thinking. An altered state of mind resulting from drug use can result in breaking free from the normal associations and thinking, which increases the chances of coming up with fresh thoughts or associations (Boden, Gross, Babson, & Bonn-Miller, 2013). In the wake of unclear evidence regarding the relationship between creativity and cannabis use, Schafer et al (2012) sought to investigate the effects that cannabis use has on the creativity and schizotypy in order to determine how cannabis use, schizotypy and creativity are interrelated.
With regard to the methodology adopted by Schafer et al (2012), snowball sampling was used in the recruitment of 160 participants (cannabis users) after which the authors grouped the participants into two categories: high on trait activity with a mean age of 21.37; and low on trait activity with a mean age of 21.62. These groups were tested on two counterbalanced conditions, which involved testing them on a day when they were not intoxicated by cannabis (day 1) and on another day when they were intoxicated by cannabis (day 7). The test sessions (both intoxicated and non-intoxicated) were carried out in a naturalistic setting. With regard to the non-intoxicated test session, the participants were supposed to have abstained from cannabis for a minimum of 24 hours, which was affirmed by saliva analysis. For the case of the intoxicated test session, the assessment was conducted after the participants smoked their own cannabis, and a sample of their cannabis examined to determine the THC levels. The researchers measured creativity using 3 tasks, which were verbal fluency, category fluency and Remote Associates Test. Verbal fluency entails giving as many responses as possible associated with a particular alphabet in 60 seconds; for instance, they could think of a word that begins with a given letter say “M” or “B”. Category fluency was used in testing semantic fluency and entailed giving as many responses as possible regarding a particular concept category within 60 seconds; for instance, they were required to provide verbal responses relating to either a fruit or four legged animals. Remote Associates Task involved presenting one word that ties to the three given words with four minutes provided for every sixteen-word triad on the evaluation; for instance, the participants could find a word that is related to the words in a triad, say a word triad of stop, wrist, night would require the word watch. Other measures used on the non-intoxicated day included the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire (SPQ) for assessing trait schizotypy on a self-report basis; Severity of Dependence Scale; Weschler Test of Adult Reading; Spielberger Trait Anxiety Inventory; and Creative Achievement Questionnaire (Shelley, Peterson, & Higgins, 2005).
The researchers found out that divergent thinking was improved extremely by cannabis in participants who were low with regard to trait creativity. This is because their performance after using cannabis was enhanced to the same degree as those participants in the high creativity group. During the non-intoxicated sessions, the performance of the low creativity group was relatively worse when compared to the high creativity group. With regard to the category fluency tasks, participants in the high creativity group outperformed the participants in the low creativity group in both the testing sessions; this implies that cannabis use did not affect their performance. In addition, participants in the high creativity category had relatively higher SPQ scores on the intoxicated test sessions when compared to the low creativity group. Both groups reported increased PSI scores for state schizotypy during the intoxicated session tests.
The findings by the researchers support the view that cannabis use can be used to enhance an aspect of creativity. Schafer et al (2012, p. 297) attributes the high scores for verbal fluency for the low trait category during the intoxicated test sessions to the cannabis, which stimulated the release of dopamine in the meso-limbic pathway within the frontal cortex. In addition, the authors also concluded that, it is highly likely that the high trait creativity group have some form of disinhibition of functions associated with the frontal cortex, which is attributed to their high verbal scores during the intoxicated test sessions. As a result, Schafer et al (2012) conclude that cannabis use does not have disinhibition impacts for the high trait creativity category. With regard to category fluency, the researchers elucidated that the high trait creativity group was advantaged because their temporal cortex already has enhanced functioning, and that temporal cortex is not affected by cannabis use. Overall, the researchers posit that the cannabis can be used to enhance verbal generation, which is a facet of creativity, among cannabis users with low trait creativity. In addition, the research offers evidence to support the view that there is a correlation between divergent thinking and the disinhibition of frontal cortical functions.
The methodology adopted by Schafer et al (2012) had its strengths and limitations. A notable strength of the research methodology adopted is that it is the most appropriate given the context and the nature of the study. According to Costain (2008), the ideal approach to measure creativity is to group the participants basing on their creativity by using a predetermined definition and measure of creativity. In this study, Schafer et al (2012) divided the participants into low and high trait creativity, after which they measured the differential changes regarding the measures of creativity. Overall, the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the study matched the requirements of the research; this is because the procedures, the assessment and the statistical data analysis consistently differentiated the intoxicated and non-intoxicated tests. The only limitation with regard to the approach and methodology is that it perceived creativity as a discrete variable, something that Fisher et al. (2004) refutes and argues that creativity should be assessed on a continuous variable to accommodate other levels of creativity. In addition, the researchers failed to provide an account of how the participants were grouped into low and high trait creativity, and the characteristics of each group before undertaking the assessment tests. With regard to the operationalization of variables, Schafer et al (2012) provided detailed account of both the independent variables (cannabis use) and the outcome variables (creativity and schizotypy). Cannabis use was operationalized by measuring the THC levels, whereas there were clear methods for measuring schizotypy and creativity, which have been validate by previous empirical studies. Data collection, analysis and coding was comprehensive, this is because Schafer et al (2012) provided detailed procedures for conducting the assessments and how data was collected, measured and coded. The sampling method had the possibility of a sampling bias, which is typical of snowball sampling wherein almost all participants are likely to exhibit similar characteristics and traits. Snowball sampling is not random, which implies that it is not probabilistic in nature, which raises issues regarding the validity and reliability of the study. There were number of problems associated with the procedures acknowledged by the researchers, which include the easy-to-score measures of RAT and verbal fluency in comparison to other deployed in literature, and assessing creativity by use of work-based tasks only, which does not take into account the multi-faceted characteristic of creativity as pointed out by Giles et al. (2006).
The study sought to investigate how cannabis use, schizotypy and creativity are interrelated, which poses the need to deploy a methodology that compares two states (intoxication and non-intoxication) with regard to creativity and schizotypy. In the line of this view, it can be argued that the methods were ideal to address the research hypothesis. The only limitation is that the authors failed to control the independent variable (cannabis use); perhaps, the researchers could have provided cannabis with specific THC levels and measure the resulting trait creativity levels instead of having the participants smoke their own cannabis with each having different THC levels (Green, Melo, Christensen, Ngo, Monette, & Bradbury, 2008). This could have been helpful in assessing the incremental effect of cannabis on creativity rather than just relying on discrete values of creativity (Shelley, Peterson, & Higgins, 2005). In addition, the researchers failed to affirm that the participants were using other drugs; there assessment focused only on cannabis and disregarded the likelihood that the participants could be using other drugs, which could have an impact on the functioning of the brain (Kassim, Sharif, & Croucher, 2010). For instance, during the intoxicated test sessions, the researchers only assessed the saliva for the levels of THC and not other drugs; is it likely that a participant could have used another drug, say opium, which might be affecting his/her creativity levels?
With regard to the interpretation of the data, it is apparent that Schafer et al (2012) provided a comprehensive interpretation of the findings. On assumption that there were no confounding variables, then there is no alternative explanation for the interpretation of the findings by Schafer et al (2012). There is the need to replicate the study, possibly with a new approach regarding the definition of creativity and adopting a continuous scale for measuring creativity rather than a discrete measurement of the same (Silvia & Beaty, 2012).
This study is important to psychology in the sense that it does not only focus on the interplay between schizotypy, creativity and cannabis, but also sheds some light regarding the relationship between creativity, particularly divergent thinking, and the disinhibition of functions related to the frontal cortex. The results contribute vital knowledge regarding the involvement of frontal cortex in the creative process (Nusbaum & Silvia, 2011). Also, the study has wider implications beyond the field of study. Schafer et al (2012) findings are interesting in the sense that they raise an issue on whether drugs could be used to enhance creativity. Fundamentally, the findings view creativity in the light of a brain deficit; therefore, creative inabilities can be addressed by drugs. Is it possible that lack of creativity can be treated? Further research is needed to ascertain the specific THC levels that can treat creativity without resulting in other negative effects associated with cannabis (Quek, Low, Razack, & Loh, 2001).
From the above review, it is apparent that the quality of the study was superb. Only a few limitations exist. Overall, the methodology adopted is appropriate given the research context and objectives. Aspects of the research such as operationalization of variables, appropriateness of the qualitative and quantitative research, procedures and methods score relatively high with regard to the testing the research questions. However, a number of limitations exist, which include perceiving creativity as a discrete variable, and that the researchers failed to provide an account of how the participants were grouped into low and high trait creativity, and the characteristics of each group before undertaking the assessment tests.
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