Spatial working memory, not IQ or executive function, discriminates early psychosis and clinically vulnerable creative individuals

Julie Crabtree*, Jennifer L. Hudson, Robert Brockman, Toby Newton-John

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Aim: While associations between creativity and psychopathology have been well researched, the specific cognitive processes that distinguish highly creative from those with psychopathology warrant further investigation. This study will examine whether IQ, executive function, cognitive inhibition or spatial working memory differentiate individuals with early psychosis, clinically vulnerable creative individuals, creative controls and non-creative controls. Methods: The study sample consisted of 110 participants: early psychosis (n = 21); clinically vulnerable creative controls (n = 25); creative controls (n = 30) and non-creative control (n = 34). The Diagnostic Interview for Psychosis assessed early psychosis participants and the Mini Neuropsychiatric Interview was used to screen for psychopathology in the remaining groups. Several cognitive tests were administered: IQ, neurocognitive measures of executive function and spatial working memory. Creativity was assessed using the Torrance Test of Creativity and Creative Achievement Questionnaire. A measure of vividness of mental imagery was also given. Results: Across all cognitive tests, spatial working memory differentiated the early psychosis group from both creative and non-creative control groups. Spatial working memory predicted group membership but vivid imagery was a better predictor of creative achievement. The early psychosis, clinically vulnerable creative and creative groups all recorded significantly higher results on creative achievement and creative cognition compared to non-creative controls. Conclusions: Our results provide further support for spatial working memory as an early neuro-cognitive marker for early psychosis. Spatial working memory, rather than IQ or executive function, may also be an early protective factor for clinically vulnerable young creative individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-56
Number of pages10
JournalEarly Intervention in Psychiatry
Issue number1
Early online date7 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • cognition
  • creativity
  • early psychosis
  • spatial working memory


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