The Effect of Dopaminergic Replacement Therapy on Creative Thinking and Insight Problem-Solving in Parkinson's Disease Patients

Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients receiving dopaminergic treatment may experience bursts of creativity. Although this phenomenon is sometimes recognized among patients and their clinicians, the association between dopamine replacement therapy (DRT) in PD patients and creativity remains underexplored. It is unclear, for instance, whether DRT affects creativity through convergent or divergent thinking, idea generation, or a general lack of inhibition. It is also unclear whether DRT only augments pre-existing creative attributes or generates creativity de novo. Here, we tested a group of PD patients when “on” and “off” dopaminergic treatment on a series of tests of creative problem-solving (Alternative Uses Task, Compound Remote Associates, Rebus Puzzles), and related their performance to a group of matched healthy controls as well as to their pre-PD creative skills and measures of inhibition/impulsivity. Results did not provide strong evidence that DRT improved creative thinking in PD patients. Rather, PD patients “on” medication showed less flexibility in divergent thinking, generated fewer ideas via insight, and showed worse performance in convergent thinking overall (by making more errors) than healthy controls. Pre-PD creative skills predicted enhanced flexibility and fluency in divergent thinking when PD patients were “on” medication. However, results on convergent thinking were mixed. Finally, PD patients who exhibited deficits in a measure of inhibitory control showed weaker convergent thinking while “on” medication, supporting previous evidence on the importance of inhibitory control in creative problem-solving. Altogether, results do not support the hypothesis that DRT promotes creative thinking in PD. We speculate that bursts of artistic production in PD are perhaps conflated with creativity due to lay conceptions of creativity (i.e., an art-bias).

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