For creative ideas, it's better to be motivated than neurotic

Contrary to popular belief, neuroticism may actually obstruct the creative process

While neuroticism tends to be linked to creativity, focus and motivation are far better drivers of innovative thinking, Scott Kaufman writes for The Atlantic

Kaufman is scientific director of the Science of Imagination Project at the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center. 

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"There's so much we still don't know about the creative mind, but what we do know suggests that being highly neurotic is not the magic sauce of creativity," he says. However, "belief in this magic sauce persists not only in popular media, but in the research community as well."

Kaufman cites a paper drawing on prior studies that suggested neurotic minds may be more creative "because they will tend to dwell on problems to a greater degree." The paper also implied that people in stereotypically creative fields, such as art, display more signs of neuroticism than those in "non-creative" roles, such as accounting.

But when Kaufman and colleagues administered a series of cognitive and personality tests, they found that "the average correlation between neuroticism and creative achievement was zero. In fact, we found that the only personality trait that consistently predicted creative achievement across the arts and sciences was openness to experience."

Neuroticism may even distract from creative thinking, Kaufman says. Citing two recent neuroscience studies he coauthored, Kaufman explains that creativity "involves motivation, organization, and collaboration," and "the neurotic imagination can really distract from these processes."

He notes that while many intelligent and imaginative people are also extremely neurotic, the creative process in certain fields may require some level of "negative rumination."

But overall, Kaufman contends, "the evidence is clear" that neurotic individuals are not more creative than the rest of us. Rather, he argues, people who are highly creative also tend to have excellent concentration, strong motivation, and be very open to new experiences (Kaufman, The Atlantic, 2/29). 


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