High levels of creativity may go hand-in-hand with neuroticism, a new study finds.
It’s because the area of the brain which is linked to creativity also has the tendency to over-think things and worry.
Neuroticism is characterised by negative thinking in a range of areas.
For a long time neurotic people were thought to have a heightened perception to threat.
This doesn’t fit the facts, though, explains Dr Adam Perkins, the study’s first author, said:
“…it’s pretty difficult to explain neuroticism in terms of magnified threat perception because high scorers often feel unhappy in situations where there is no threat at all.
The second problem is, there’s literature showing neuroticism scores are positively correlated with creativity; and so why should having a magnified view of threat objects make you good at coming up with new ideas?”
The neuroscientists noticed, though, that neurotic people have high activity in part of the medial prefrontal cortex.
This area is also important in self-generated thoughts.
Dr Adam Perkins said:
“It occurred to me that if you happen to have a preponderance of negatively hued self-generated thoughts due to high levels of spontaneous activity in the parts of the medial prefrontal cortex that govern conscious perception of threat and you also have a tendency to switch to panic sooner than average people, due to possessing especially high reactivity in the basolateral nuclei of the amygdale, then that means you can experience intense negative emotions even when there’s no threat present.
This could mean that for specific neural reasons, high scorers on neuroticism have a highly active imagination, which acts as a built-in threat generator.”
This could help to explain the positive aspects of neuroticism.
Dr Perkins said:
“We’re still a long way off from fully explaining neuroticism, and we’re not offering all of the answers, but we hope that our new theory will help people make sense of their own experiences, and show that although being highly neurotic is by definition unpleasant, it also has creative benefits.
Hopefully our theory will also stimulate new research as it provides us with a straightforward unifying framework to tie together the creative aspects of neuroticism with its emotional aspects.”
The study was published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences (Perkins et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Kevin Gebardt