It has been said “there is a fine line between genius and insanity,” with insanity referring to psychopathology. But is that statement really true? Some very creative individuals do not have psychotic tendencies, while some people with psychosis seem incapable of expressing creative thoughts or sentiments. However, psychoticism, which can include severe mental health issues such as bipolar or schizophrenia, can also encompass less debilitating subclinical levels that manifest as depression, schizoid, schizoaffective, criminal and hostile behaviors, impulsivity, and aggression, some of which are often linked to creativity. In support of this theory, many highly creative figures in history experienced bouts with these and other psychological problems.
Selcuk Acar of the Torrence Creativity Center at the University of Georgia wanted to put this idea to the test. In a recent study, Acar analyzed 32 studies and reviewed data on more than 6,700 participants made up mostly of college students. The results revealed that although there was some link between creativity and psychoticism, the relationship was modest at best. Additionally, the link was evident only when creativity was gauged by uniqueness. “Relating this back to the mad genius hypothesis, it appears that creativity and psychopathology may have only an occasional and very specific relationship rather than a broad and general one,” Acar said. In fact, creativity, as measured by uniqueness, was related to psychoticism only when it was considered original. Acar points out that creativity stems from originality, but does not always result in something unique. Likewise, original concepts do not always result in something creative.
Upon further investigation, Acar noticed that there was very little demographic difference in the data. Specifically, the connection between creativity and psychoticism was not stronger among men than women, or among older than younger participants. Some subtle differences did appear between participants who felt at liberty to answer the questions freely when compared to those who felt prohibited from being truly honest, perhaps because of their profession or position of authority. Because the data reviewed in this analysis was gathered from college students and perhaps even staff members, it may be prudent to conduct further research with a less inhibited sample. Acar believes future efforts should also look at how creativity and psychoticism are influenced by personality traits and other factors relative to conceptual processes.
Acar, Selcuk, and Mark A. Runco. Psychoticism and creativity: A meta-analytic review. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 64.4 (2012): 341-50. Print.
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