The curse of creativity

di1_edited-2It just isn’t fair. One person gets to be born with an enviable imagination, the ability to come up with new, innovative ideas, or create artistic masterpieces and the next person does not. Many cringe at the idea that creativity could be an innate and inheritable trait …. including those that have this trait. Creative people often feel driven to be different, to strive for the original idea and take it as far as possible despite the deprivation and pain that results. They fear that inspiration may abandon them and leave them stranded, or the world may decide that the masterpiece into which they have pour blood, sweat and tears is useless and ugly. They may not see their ability as being  a fortunate circumstance. In fact, most of the evidence for innate creativity is based on the negatives associated with this trait.

First on the list of negatives is the similarity of creative thinking to schizophrenic thinking. Researchers find increasing evidence for the genetic basis for schizophrenia. As they search through the relatives and family trees of schizophrenics, there appear a larger than average number of people in creative fields. In the same manner, examining the families of famous creative people reveal more members exhibiting types of psychopathology than found in an average population.  Abnormal thinking exhibited by people diagnosed with Schizophrenic spectrum disorders include the following:

  • Delusional thinking, which is similar to using divergent associations
  • Over-inclusive thinking, or paying attention to seemingly irrelevant details
  • Uncontrolled flexibility, evidenced by jumping from idea to idea [1]

Do those sound a lot like creative traits? The difference is that the creative person has a stronger ability to make judgments to determine when this kind of behavior will be acceptable, a characteristic controlled by the pre-frontal cortex. [2]

The second evidence is associated with a problem that many creative people bemoan, the unpredictability of inspiration. For those most known for creative output, the peak tends to come at the beginning of their career. The creativity tends to fluctuate going up and down during the career, but usually not reaching the earlier height. If creativity were learned behavior should improve, but the ability to come up with creative products seems to “a chaotic sequence of hits and misses.” [3]

Finally, no one seems to be able to explain why some people keep after their pursuit of creativity when it is heavily discouraged. Reams of articles come out on how to encouraging creativity in education and the workplace, but it appears some manage to keep a unique perspective without encouragement. Recently with an increase desire for creative products, the disparity of desire for products and disapproval of creative ideas has come to the forefront.[4] Why would a creative person continue coming up with the kind of ideas that caused social rejection if it was solely something they learned to do? Apparently social rejection increases imaginative thinking; at least  in those that are already nonconforming types. According to a study from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School:

“Rejection confirms for independent people what they already feel about themselves, that they’re not like others. For such people, that distinction is a positive one leading them to greater creativity.”[5]

[1] Kuszewski, A. (2009) The Genetics of Creativity: A Serendipitous Assemblage of Madness, http://www.grupometodo.org
[2] Jung-Beeman, M., Bowden, E., Haberman, J., Frymiare, J., Arambel-Liu, S., Greenblatt, R., Reber, P., Kounios, J. (2004). Neural activity when people solve problems with insight. PLoS Biol 2(4): e97
[3] Feist, G.J. (1998) A meta-analysis of personality in scientific and artistic creativity, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2, 290-309
[4] Olien,J (2013) Inside the Box, People Don’t Actually Like Creativity.
[5] Johns Hopkins University news release, August 21, 2012, Don’t Get Mad, Get Creative: Social Rejection Can Fuel Imagination, JHU Carey Researcher Finds

 

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