The edge of psychotic

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This past week, writing synopsis of creativity research has led me to realize how much my spelling has deteriorated.  Mostly I rely on the word processor’s spell check, but sometimes it doesn’t recognize the scientific terms; other times it doesn’t recognize my vague resemblance of the actual word.  But when I keep running into the same word over and over again, I learn to type it right the first time.  So after a week of researching the creative personality I can accurately type out psychoticism even though it is not in my spell checker.

What does this traits, largely associated with mental illness and criminal behavior, have to do with creativity? Hans J. Eysenck developed a personality model based on three dimensions: Psychoticism, Extraversion, and Neuroticism. Using his three dimensional model he found that people with recognized artist achievement typically have a higher score on psychotic scale than noncreative people. These traits include:

  • recklessness
  • disregard for common sense
  • inappropriate emotional expression
  • non-acceptance of cultural norms
  • immaturity
  • anti-authoritative attitudes[1]

Eysenck finds creativity to have its roots in what he refers to as the “overinclusive thought process.” Basically creative people view more widely related ideas as relevant than people holding on to conventional concepts. However, even though he compares the thought processes of creative people to that of schizophrenics, he never says they are insane. Rather he says the opposite, an original thinker is “a person high on psychoticism but not really psychotic.” [2]

Yes, that is confusing to me. I would really like to know what made a different between the two for Eysenck. To be fair, others have also found similar connections. E.P. Torrance, psychologist, professor and developer of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, noted that anti-authoritarian attitudes were also linked to creative output.[3] Harvard professor of psychiatry, Albert Rothenburg created a name for the illogical thought processes of creative people that resembled those of the mentally ill, Janusain thinking. This kind of illogical thought is was marked by being able to consider two opposite concepts at the same time; like two objects occupying the same space.[4]

The current emphasis on creativity as being the key to solving humankind’s most persistent problems or provide unending economic growth seems to ignores the semblance between creativity and psychotic traits. But these traits are seen in many great artists and writers. I also witness the traits listed above in many teenagers, who do not give any evidence of exceptional creativity. They even tend to conform to their peers, rather than showing signs of originality. So there is more to creativity, but it may not be possible to remove from it the kind of thinking that balances on the edge of psychotic.

[1] Porzio, S.K.  A Critical Review of Eysenck’s Theory of Psychoticism and How it Relates to Creativity, (viewed 12/31/2013)
 [2] Eysenck, H.J.  Creativity and Personality: Suggestions for a Theory, Psychological Inquiry, 1993, Vol. 4, No. 3, 147-178
 [3] Torrance, E.P. & Khatena, J. (1970) What Kind of Person Are You? A brief screening device for identifying creatively gifted adolescents and adults. Gifted Child Quarterly, 14, 71-75
[4] Rothenburg, A. &  Hausman. C., (1976). The creativity question.  Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
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