Having a mid-life crisis is more common than you may think with six in ten of those aged 40 to 59 admitting they might be experiencing one.

But it is not all bad news. Going through the emotional upheaval makes us more curious about the world and better able to cope with its problems, a study has found.

Our minds go into overdrive in search for a creative solution, so popular perceptions of the mid-life crisis - a middle-aged man buying a sports car, a middle-aged woman getting a toy boy - may derive from a hankering for new experiences, the research suggests.

A team led by Dr Oliver Robinson of the University of Greenwich interviewed more than 900 people aged 20 and over. They found that 24 per cent of those aged 40 to 59 were "definitely" having some kind of crisis with a further 36 per cent who were "maybe" having one. A crisis was defined as being emotionally unstable, making major changes and feeling overwhelmed for at least a year.


Dr Robinson told the British Psychological Society's conference in Nottingham yesterday that there were two schools of thought: that the crisis needs to be treated with drugs or that curiosity "creates a sense of child-like wonder and excitement at being alive".

Increased curiosity was reflected in a greater interest in people, in one's self, in ideas in general and in the world around, he said. It included "exploring my environment, rather than charging through it". Dr Robinson cited the case of TV comedy producer John Lloyd, whose work includes Blackadder and Not The Nine O'Clock News.

In his early 40s, Lloyd began weeping under his desk during recordings, unable to see the purpose of life, Dr Robinson said. Rather than get "pumped full of antidepressants", he read voraciously and treated what was wrong with him as an "engineering problem".

As a result he had the idea for the hit quiz show QI. Lloyd was a good example of how curiosity is our way of trying to deal with a world that doesn't make sense any longer, Dr Robinson said.

The middle aged are not alone in undergoing crisis, however - 22 per cent of the group aged 20 to 39 said they were in crisis and a further 36 per cent were "maybes". Only 14 per cent of over-60s reported being in a crisis.

Dr Robinson said people undergoing mid-life crisis were more likely to start reading biographies and self-help books. In those over 60, an interest in eating and cookery books was one mark of crisis.