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Are People with Bipolar Disorder More Intelligent?

I recently wrote about the myth that you can be “too smart” to have bipolar disorder. I wrote about the prejudicial and false thought that if we were “smart enough” we wouldn’t have bipolar. This, of course, isn’t remotely true.

A couple of people requested more about bipolar disorder and intelligence.

But I’m sorry to say, the truth is, people with bipolar disorder are actually cognitively impaired compared to the average individual.

What is Intelligence?

One of the troubles with asking, “who is intelligent?” is that you need a definition for intelligence. Scientists want something specific, repeatable and reliable. 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.

42-16761486Cognitive Deficits in Bipolar Disorder

As bipolar disorder is a brain illness, it shouldn’t really come as a big surprise it affects more than just the parts of the brain involved in mood. Scientists have measured all sorts of cognitive dysfunction in bipolar disorder. Here is some of what they have found, both positive and negative:

  • Cognitive dysfunction in verbal memory; dysfunction severity was linked to duration and severity of illness (Depressed, manic/hypomanic and bipolar is remission measured.)
  • Bipolars on antipsychotic drugs showed lower IQ, memory and working memory scores. Duration of illness created greater memory impairment but did not affect IQ or working memory. Family history of affective disorders correlated to higher IQ. (Measured in bipolar I patients.)
  • Visuospatial reasoning impairment seen in before manifestation of bipolar. Higher score in arithmetic reasoning was associated with a more than 12-fold greater risk in developing bipolar disorder.
  • Large dysfunction noted in: working memory, executive control, fluency and verbal memory. Medium dysfunction noted in: concept shifting, executive control, mental speed, visual memory, and sustained attention. Small dysfunction noted in visuoperception. First degree relatives also had dysfunction in executive function and verbal memory in particular. (Meta-analysis of bipolar disorder in remission.)
  • Dysfunction found in a few areas but most prominent in card sorting test, verbal memory, processing speed, sustained attention, executive function/working memory and verbal learning. (Odd increase in vocabulary function.) (Measured in bipolar disorder in remission.)
  • Poor and excellent school performance both associated with increased risk of bipolar disorder. Achieving an A grade associated with increased risk for bipolar disorder, particularly in humanities and to a lesser extent in science subjects. The association between high scores and risk for bipolar disorder seems to be confined to males. A grades in Swedish (language) and music have particularly strong associations with risk for bipolar disorder.

And that doesn’t count all the neurobiological dysfunction found in neuroimaging studies. There’s quite a bit of that too. Did you know people with bipolar disorder don’t properly process facial expressions?

(For those of you curious, the story on creativity is different, but that will have to wait for another post.)

BBE031

So Then, We’re Not Smart?

It depends on your definition. But look, we’re not more intelligent, we’re not less intelligent, we’re just different. Some parts of us, like memory and visual-spatial cognition, seem to be pretty universally impaired but that’s hardly the end of the world.

And psychotropic medication, particularly antipsychotics, gets in there and messes things up further for some people. Not particularly pleasant, but not overly surprising.

Life is not Even-Steven

People want to believe those with bipolar disorder are smarter because then it seems like we got a pretty present with the not-so-pretty present of bipolar disorder. I get it. It’s romanticized. It’s “fair.” It’s convenient.

It just doesn’t happen to be true.

But you want to know the most intelligent thing of all? Dealing with reality. We weren’t given extra IQ points with the crazy. It’s OK. I don’t need that falsehood to feel better about myself.

IQ isn’t happiness. I’ll work with what I actually have to get what I want. That’s smart.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitteror at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

50 thoughts on “Are People with Bipolar Disorder More Intelligent?”

  1. This is absolutely nonsensical, you are stating these so called facts based on studies of individuals on antipsychotic drugs that distroy brain function among other organs. Antipsychotics change the brain structure and kills off cells just like alcohol and other drugs do. The brain is also a muscle that responds to excersice. New tissue is available for specific tasks if the task is excercised correctly. You cannot even do some basic tasks when you are so heavly medicated and sleep 18 hours a day. Therefore long term use of these medication destroy brain cells. There is a lot of information out there for those interested in brain damage caused by Neuroleptic Psychiatric drugs. There have been countless studies over the past few decades that found antipsychotic”s are associated with cells death and brain shrinkage that has been seen pn CT scans and also autopsy studies of psychiatric patients. Patients and families are not told of the long term effects of these drigs and it is kept put of the media. I am in no way telling people to stop taking their medication , I am just providing information. I have a Bachelor in Nursing and also Bachelor of Science and major in genetics with high distinctions And 5 years ago I was netted into the Australian mental health system after trusting another health professional with a situation where my ex partner was severely psychologically anusing me ” Gaslighting ” and told I was delusional and forced to take medication that turned me into a vegetable. I was also diagnosed with Bipolar as I presented as manic when in actual fact I was in ” fight or flight” mode fue to the fear of my ex partner which was well documented through the court system because of different orders that the actual police took out against him on my son and my behalf. But like all systems , they Wouldn’t listen or believe me , but that is a whole new discussion. I am now medication free and regaining my life but unfortunately due to the over medication I now have some memory issues. This study has no real research or science to back it up and clearly states that was conducted on medicated individuals which in my mind is equivalent to studying a dryed out turd. That comment is not directed at the people butbto the person who wrote this and the pharmaceutical companies that make money on destroying peoples brains and lives. I will be releasing a book late 2018 , title yet to be decided but it is my first book and 70% of proceeds are going to be put into an organisation developed by me to help people stuck in the system or have been effected and want to regain their lives. …Shakira Gordon

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