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The connection between creativity and mental illness is well-established but also hugely exaggerated by the media, particularly thanks to Hollywood. Indeed, when the average layman is asked to think of salient cases of artistic (as well as scientific) talent, he will probably pick from an unrepresentative sample of creative geniuses who are memorable not because of their talents but because these co-existed with a darker side (psychopathic traits, bipolar disorder, anti-social conduct, lack of social skills, etc.). Thus when you think of a maths or physics genius you imediately think of Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind”, when you think of a musical genius you think of Beethoven’s biopic “Immortal beloved” or Amadeus’ portrayal of Mozart (or, if you prefer, “Ray”, “Walk the line”, “Shine”), when you think of big visual artists you think of “Surviving Picasso”, “Pollock” or “Modigliani”, etc.


The bottom line here is quite simple: to portray eminence as a combination of both talent and psychological hardship. The effect is also straightforward: to create the illusion of a causal link between creative talent and psychological disorders. The assumption, then, is that Miles Davis would not have been Miles Davis if he had been a teetotaller, that Ray or Steve Wonder would have been mediocre musicians if they hadn’t been deprived of vision (and, before you say it: blindness is not a psychological disorder but the point is that it’s psychologically taxing), and that Picasso’s talents were boosted by his psychopathic approach to love and relationships. This sends an uplifting message to the average man: being a genius is not really worth it because geniuses are all disturbed – so, we should all embrace normality.


The reality is somewhat different, though. Most talents are more adaptive than maldaptive, and psychological research shows that creativity is associated with a wide range of positive outcomes, including both physical and psychological well-being. From a molecular or micro-psychological point of view, the act of doing something creative has instant positive physical and psychological effects (call it “flow”, intrinsic motivation, natural high, or whatever you want to call it); at a “group-level” analyses, creative activities foster social bonds, including long-term relationships; at a social and sociological level, creativity is the key driver of progress in human society, and even though many people keep trying to persuade us that any form of progress is detrimental to our natural psychological constitution or basic psychological needs, they do not live in North Korea (and, even if they wanted to, they could not). I will not review the vast literature in support of the link between creativity and well-being because this is not the place for it, but, take my word: creativity, in whichever form it is manifested, has happy consequences (this is almost tautological).


A more complex question is the extent to which subjective well-being or happiness (the non-technical word for it) are beneficial for creativity. Yes, research shows that positive emotions can trigger creative impulses – moments of euphoria are usually associated with creative behaviours – but it also shows that periods of hardship (sadness, anxiety, fear, etc) can be used to “incubate” creativity and may even provide the “raw materials” for creative ventures later on. This is what some people call the seashore effects, and why some creative eminences had bipolar tendencies. In fact, there is a much simpler way of looking at this: if everything in your life works fine or your life is perfectly balanced, why bother changing it? Remember: to create is to change or transform something into something else. So, “if it ain’t broken…”. Thus, dramatic events can trigger creative attempts because they motivate us to change and, for the same reason, once the equilibrium has been restored and our life is balanced we may be less interested in creating.


The relationship between emotional hardship (suffering) and creative interests is also reflected in our aesthetic preferences. Indeed, a perfectly balanced life will undermine not only your creative instincts but also your taste for all things creative. This is why individuals with a natural predisposition towards happiness – namely, those who score high on tests of Extraversion and Agreeableness, and low on tests of Neuroticism – have terrible artistic taste! Moreover, the only personality trait that has any salient effects on aesthetic sensitivity and artistic appreciation (the personality trait of Openness to Experience) is positively related to Psychoticism and Sensation Seeking.


Linking personality to artistic preferences is not straightforward unless you classify artistic preferences according to personality-congruent categories or factors. For instance, if different pictures or songs can be grouped or classified according to their “ability” to evoke positive or negative emotions, they could be predicted by emotionally-relevant traits like Extraversion or Neuroticism. Likewise, if you classify artistic products, like films, according to their aesthetic value (how artistic, intellectual, or cultural they are) you will easily predict these preferences by people’s Openness’ score. The fact that open people (who are, by definition, artistic) prefer artistic paintings, photographs, music and films, is no surprise – and, again, tautological. However, the fact that happy people prefer less artistic forms of these products can only be explained by accepting the connection between creativity and hardship. This is why stable, aggreeable extraverts are much more likely to enjoy “Meet the Parents” (or other feelgood movies) than their unstable, disagreeable, introverted counterparts. Moreover, this is why stable, agreeable extraverts are much more likely to dislike (and will probably never bother watching) “Das Boot” or “The Antichrist”.


So, if you have been blessed or gifted with a happy personality, your artistic taste probably sucks!


To take part in our current research on personality and movie preferences (and get instant feedback on your personality and movie preferences), click here!


Source: 

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mr-personality/201002/why-happiness-may-spoil-your-taste-in-movies



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