Creativity and social skills: a chicken and egg question

Bass guitarist for Socials Kills

Bass guitarist for Social Kills

Creative people are known for being  anti-social, hard to get along with, or just plain “crazy.”  Sometimes these epithets occur because creative people have a tendency to do something much of the world cringes at – criticize, or conversely act superior. When the criticism is leveled at the artsy crowd it seems to bounce off of their stubborn heads as if they didn’t care. But do they?

A recent study by Øyvind L. Martinsen, a professor at BI Norwegian Business School, describes seven characteristics that appear significantly more often in creative people. He compared the personality profiles of working actors, musicians, artists and marketing students to those working in un creative fields, and found that creative people “have a rebellious attitude due to a need to do things no one else does.” They also “have a tendency not to be very considerate, are obstinate and find faults and flaws in ideas and people.” Marketing students had a personality profile similar to that of the artists. Artists showed less ambition than the performers and lower sociability.[1]

This finding is really not a surprise in light of the fact that psychotic traits were linked to creative output (H. J. Eysenck), creative people tended to have anti-authoritarian ideas (E.P. Torrance)[2]  and studies show an inverse relationship between agreeableness and creativity (L.A. King).[3]

But some researchers and theorists have attempted to find the root for these anti-social behaviors. As a researcher at Melbourne University, Karen Hendricks, examined 40 creative artists, writers, visual artists and performers,  along side of non-artistic people. All of the artists had some schizoid personality characteristics. [4] The schizoid personality disorder is typified by lack of interest in social relationships, preference for solitary life style, secretiveness, aloofness, as well as an elaborate structure of internal imaginations (i.e. fantasy world).[5]  The profiles of artists, such as painters, photographers and sculptors, were the nearest to “normal” personalities, but still deviant. The performance artists such as the dancers, actors and musicians were the most narcissistic. The writers were the most neurotic. “In other words they were more at odds with the world,” Dr. Hendricks said. But she was still not able to determine whether the anti-social and neurotic tendencies contributed to the production of works of art, or if these were produced during more normal periods in the fluctuating personality of the artists.[4]

Martinsen attributed the rebellious attitude as part of the need to be original. Creative people resist imitating others. So if imitation is flattery, what is the refusal to imitate? Often people react as if that individual doesn’t see what they do or say as good enough. They tend to reject those that reject what they have done. Aloofness and secretiveness may be the artists response to this reflected rejection. (It does break the cycle of rejection.) The anti-social and obstinate behavior could very well be a protection for those heading down an unconventional road. There is the assumption that imagination was developed to replace social relationships. But perhaps the fantasy was there to begin with, and social relationships tended to tear it down rather than built it up. So which came first, creativity or anti-social tendencies?


[1] BI Norwegian Business School (2013, April 2). The hunt for the creative individual. Science Daily. Retrieved January 11, 2014, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2013/04/130402091133.htm
[2] 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
[3] King, L.A. Walker, L.M. Broyles, S.J. Creativity and the Five-Factor Model. Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 30, Issue 2, Pages 189-203 (2013)
[4] Anti-social? No, just artistic By Geoff Strong November 7, 2005. Retrieved January 11, 2014, from http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/antisocial-no-just-artistic/2005/11/06/1131211945809.html
[5] Authur S. Reber- Dictionary of Psychology, Penguin p.690 (1995)
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