Alice Weaver Flaherty

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Alice Flaherty in 2013

Alice Weaver Flaherty is an American neurologist. She is a researcher, physician, educator and author of the 2004 book The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain, about the neural basis of creativity.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

She grew up in Brookside, a hamlet of Mendham Township, New Jersey and graduated from West Morris Mendham High School.[2] She completed her undergraduate degree and her medical degree at Harvard University as well as a fellowship there. She also completed a Ph.D. at MIT.


Dr. Flaherty is a joint associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She is a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. She heads the MGH Neurology’s Brain Stimulator Unit, where “she uses deep brain stimulators to treat neurological disease and psychiatric disease. Her research focuses on voluntary control of action, and how human brains represent their bodies, two factors that help drive suffering in depression, Parkinson’s, and somatoform disorders.”[3][4]

She writes in various genres, including “scientific papers, humorous essays, and picture books”.[5] Her book, The Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of Neurology was for years the most "widely used neurology text in its class".[6] Her most famous book, The Midnight Disease, appeared on "Best Books of 2004" lists in The Washington Post and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Experience with hypergraphia[edit]

After her premature twin boys died soon after their birth, Flaherty was full of grief. Several days later, however, she “awoke one morning with an overwhelming desire to put everything on her mind on paper”.[7] She describes her experiences with hypergraphia, this overwhelming urge to write. She claims she could not stop for a period of four months. A similar experience occurred after the birth of her premature twin girls, who survived. Following the two births, her abilities to produce creative works were heightened. The Midnight Disease tried to make sense of this phenomenon.

Media work[edit]

Flaherty gave a TEDx talk Danger and Creativity, in 2019.[8] She was a consultant on two TV drama series pilots based on her life: The Madness of Jane, created by Rob LaZebnik, and Hysteria, created by Shaun Cassidy. She has appeared on many TV and radio broadcasts as a public advocate for the abilities of patients with brain illnesses. She was featured on the podcast The Great God of Depression, created by Pagan Kennedy, about her interactions with the writer William Styron.[9] Her image hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the oil painting Museum Epiphany 3 painted by Warren and Lucia Prosperi.[10] She was the protagonist of Bedside Manner, directed by Corinne Botz, which in 2016 won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Short Documentary, DOC NYC, Oscar-qualifying.[11]


Selected journal articles[edit]

  • Graybiel, A.M., Aosaki, T., Flaherty, A.W., Kimura, M. "The basal ganglia and adaptive motor control" (1994) Science, 265 (5180), pp. 1826–1831.
  • Flaherty, A.W., Graybiel, A.M. "Input-output organization of the sensorimotor striatum in the squirrel monkey" (1994) Journal of Neuroscience, 14 (2), pp. 599–610.
  • Flaherty A.W. "Frontotemporal and dopaminergic control of idea generation and creative drive". J Comparative Neurology. 2005;493(1):147-53.
  • Flaherty, A.W. "Creativity and disease: Mechanisms and treatment". Canadian J. Psychiatry. 2011;56(3):132-143.

Books and non-technical articles[edit]

  • Flaherty, Alice W. The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain. Boston, Mass: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. ISBN 978-0-618-23065-5
    • German translation as "Die Mitternachtskrankheit : warum Schriftsteller schreiben müssen ; Schreibzwang, Schreibrausch, Schreibblockade und das kreative Gehirn" Berlin, 2004. ISBN 978-3-932909-39-9
    • Japanese translation as Flaherty, Alice, and Toshiko Yoshida. 書きたがる脳 : 言語と創造性の科学 / Kakitagaru nō: gengo to sōzōsei no kagaku. Tōkyō: Randamuhausukōdansha, 2006.
  • Flaherty, Alice W., illus. Magoon, Scott. The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin; 2007. ISBN 978-0618556441
    • Korean translation as Flaherty, Alice W., illus. Magoon, Scott. 호수 의 행운 괴물 다움 [hosu ui haeng-un goemul daum]. Seoul: Marubol Publications; 2008.
  • Flaherty, Alice W., and Natalia S. Rost. The Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of Neurology. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2nd ed. 2007. ISBN 978-0-7817-5137-7
    • Translated into Japanese as Flaherty, Alice W., and Takamichi Hattori. MGH 神経内科ハンドブック / MGH shinkei naika handobukku. Tokyo: Medikaru saiensu intanashonaru, 2001
  • Flaherty AW. Homeostasis and the control of creative drive. In R. E. Jung & O. Vartanian (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Neuroscience of Creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018. ISBN 9781316556238
  • Flaherty, AW. Playing doctor well. Neurology. 2008;70(11):826-7.
  • Flaherty, AW. Special effects: What can the dramatic arts teach doctors about improving their performances? Harvard Medical Bulletin. 2009;82(2):12-17.
  • Flaherty, Alice W. Performing the art of medicine. Total Art Journal. 1(1), 2011.
  • Flaherty AW. Writing and drugs. Writing and Pedagogy. 4(2), 2012.


  1. ^ Ely, Elissa. "From Bipolar Darkness, the Empathy to Be a Doctor". New York Times. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  2. ^ "Flaherty Earns Bell Scholarship", Bernardsville News, June 25, 1981. Accessed October 14, 2021, via "Alice W. Flaherty, daughter of Franklin and Sarah Flaherty of Brookside, is one of four New Jersey graduating high school students to receive a James B. Fisk Merit Scholarship, sponsored by Bell Laboratories... Flaherty was a student at West Morns Mendham High School and plans a pre law major at Harvard University."
  3. ^ "Alice Flaherty | Harvard Catalyst Profiles | Harvard Catalyst". Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  4. ^ "Boundary-breaking neurologist treats patients other doctors give up on". STAT. 2018-06-19. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  5. ^ Profile Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine at David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University
  6. ^ Profile at ResearchCrossroads
  7. ^ Cromie, William J. (2004). "The brains behind writer's block". Harvard Gazette. Harvard University.
  8. ^ "Danger and Creativity". April 2019. Retrieved 2022-03-02.
  9. ^ "The Great God of Depression". 2018. Retrieved 2022-03-02.
  10. ^ "Museum Of Fine Arts, Boston, to unveil painting depicting gallery in art of the Americas wing by artist Warren Prosperi". 2012-06-28. Retrieved 2022-03-02.
  11. ^ "Bedside Manner". Retrieved 2022-03-02.