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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. Creative individuals 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 of 160 cannabis consumers. The investigation consisted in the requirement that one day testees should be sober and another day they should be 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 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 with help of divergent and convergent thinking respectively: verbal fluency and Remote Associates Test (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 studied extensively by researchers. Such opinion occurred because there is no consensus regarding the definition and objective measurement of creativity. The review of literature by Schafer et al (2012) suggested that neither the impacts of cannabis on creativity nor the mechanisms through which cannabis induces psychotomimetic creativity are yet to be explored and well understood. Nevertheless, Schafer et al (2012) hypothesized that cannabis use results in psychotomimetic systems that in turn link apparently unconnected concepts, which is a characteristic of divergent thinking that constitutes creative thinking. An altered state of mind resulting from drug use can make a person break free from the normal associations and thinking, which increases the chances of coming up with fresh thoughts or coordination of ideas (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 has on the creativity and schizotypy in order to determine how cannabis use, schizotypy and creativity are interrelated.
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With regard to the methodology adopted by Schafer et al (2012), snowball sampling was used in the recruitment of 160 participants (cannabis consumers) after which the authors grouped the participants into two categories: high trait activity with a mean age of 21.37; and low trait activity with a mean age of 21.62. These groups were tested on two counterbalanced conditions, which involved testing them when they were not intoxicated by cannabis (day 1) and when they were intoxicated by this drug (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 abstain 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 was examined to determine the THC levels. The researchers measured creativity using three 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 Test involved presenting one word that can be connected to the three given words within four minutes provided for every sixteen-word triad on the evaluation. The participants could find a word that is related to the words in a triad; for example, a word triad of stop, wrist, and 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, as well as Severity of Dependence Scale, Wechsler Test of Adult Reading, Spielberger Trait Anxiety Inventory, and Creative Achievement Questionnaire (Shelley, Peterson, & Higgins, 2005).
The researchers found out that divergent thinking was extremely improved by cannabis in participants who were low with regard to trait creativity. This is because their performance after using cannabis was enhanced to the degree of the 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 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 of the researchers support the view that cannabis 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. Cannabis consumption stimulated the release of dopamine in the mesolimbic pathway within the frontal cortex. In addition, the authors concluded that the high trait creativity group likely has 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 on 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. In general, the researchers posit that the cannabis can be used to enhance verbal generation, which is a facet of creativity among cannabis users with low traits of creative skills. 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.
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The methodology adopted by Schafer et al (2012) had its strengths and weaknesses. A notable strength of the adopted research methodology 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 creative skills 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 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. Fisher et al. (2004) refute and argue that creativeness should be assessed by 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 validated by previous empirical studies. Data collection, analysis and coding were comprehensive since Schafer et al (2012) provided detailed procedures for conducting the assessments. They elucidated the way 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. This fact raises issues regarding the validity and reliability of the study. There were a 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 approaches deployed in literature. It also implied 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 creates 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 making 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 its discrete values (Shelley, Peterson, & Higgins, 2005). In addition, the researchers failed to affirm that the participants were using other drugs; their assessment focused only on cannabis and disregarded the likelihood of other drugs that the participants could be using. This could have a diverse 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.
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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, there is no alternative explanation of the findings received 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 effects of cannabis, but also sheds some light on the relationship between creativity, particularly divergent thinking, and the disinhibition of functions related to the frontal cortex. The results contribute to vital knowledge regarding the involvement of frontal cortex in the creative process (Nusbaum & Silvia, 2011). Also, the investigation has wider implications beyond the field of study. Findings of Schafer et al (2012) are interesting in the sense that they raise an issue on whether drugs could be used to enhance ingenuity. Fundamentally, the findings view creativity in the light of a deficiency of certain abilities; therefore, creative inabilities can be addressed by drugs. Is it possible to treat a lack of creativity? Further research is needed to ascertain the specific THC levels that can treat creativity without other negative effects associated with cannabis (Quek, Low, Razack, & Loh, 2001).
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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, as well as procedures and methods score relatively high with regard to the research questions’ evaluation. However, there are also a number of weaknesses, which include a sham perception of creativity as a discrete variable, the fact 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.