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Degeneration theory

The concept of degeneration was introduced by Morel (1857) and was developed by Nordau (1895), Lombroso (1895) and others. On the mental level, degeneration was seen as involving a weakening of higher, inhibitory brain centres. This weakening allows lower, more primitive functions to emerge in an incontrollable fashion. In other words, degeneration is a disinhibition syndrome. It presumably is caused by environmental factors such as diet, climate and toxins and then it is passed genetically. Lombroso (1895: 143) listed the following traits of degeneration:

Apathy, loss of moral sense, frequent tendencies to impulsiveness or doubt, psychical inequalities owing to the excess of some of some faculty (memory, aesthetic taste, etc.) or defect of other qualities (calculation, for example), exaggerated mutism or verbosity, morbid vanity, excessive originality, and excessive preoccupation with self, the tendency to put mystical interpretations on simple facts, the abuse of symbolism and of special words which are used as an almost exclusive mode of expression.

Degeneration theory became very unpopular in the 20th century and it was dismissed for long time. However, as Martindale (1999: 143) notes, the fact that Morel and his followers were wrong about the genetic transmission "does not mean that they were wrong about the unitary nature of construct of what they called degeneration." The later research has confirmed that a certain proportion of creative persons have a clear psychopathological tendencies.

Degeneration theory. Dictionary of Creativity: Terms, Concepts, Theories & Findings in Creativity Research / Compiled and edited by Eugene Gorny., 2007.
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