Why are most creative people neurotic

Does brooding make you neurotic but also creative?

They tend towards sadness and fear, but are also often extremely creative: This mixture characterizes people to whom psychologists attribute the personality trait neuroticism. Now a research team is presenting an explanation for what could be behind this combination: According to them, the brain area responsible for brooding is overactive in neurotic personalities. This could make them particularly creative, but unfortunately also make them prone to psychological problems.

In modern psychology, neuroticism is considered to be one of the five main tendencies of personality. People who are considered to be neurotic have characteristic properties, the severity of which can be determined by certain tests. To put it simply, they tend to have many kinds of negative thoughts and feelings. As a result, they often get into difficulties with life and suffer more than the average from mental disorders. So far, the cause of neuroticism has been an excessive sensitivity of those affected to possible threats. This assumption is based on the fact that anti-anxiety drugs can help many sufferers.

Inconsistencies in the previous explanatory approach

But according to the researchers led by Adam Perkins from King’s College London, this traditional explanation has some inconsistencies because it does not cover the full spectrum of neuroticism. "It seems problematic to explain neuroticism as the result of an increased threat perception, since those affected often feel unhappy in situations that have nothing to do with threat at all," says Perkins. “The second inconsistency is that neuroticism is often linked to creativity. Why should people of all people with an excessive threat perception develop a particularly large number of unusual ideas? "

Perkins had his aha-moment listening to a lecture by future co-author Jonathan Smallwood of the University of York, a leading expert on the neural basis of daydreaming. Smallwood described test results of subjects who were at rest in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). According to him, they showed increased brain activity in the so-called medial prefrontal cortex whenever they spontaneously had negative thoughts - as is typical for neuroticism. So Perkins came up with the idea that individual differences in the activity of this brain region could be responsible for the tendency to neuroticism.

Brood hypothesis

According to him and his colleagues, it seems plausible that people tend to have negative thoughts who have a particularly active medial prefrontal cortex combined with a tendency to panic. Although the dark thoughts are similar to those that arise when there is a threat, they are detached from specific dangers. “This could mean that for certain nervous reasons neurotic people have a very active imagination, which, however, acts as a threat generator,” says Perkins. According to the researchers, the new explanatory model is also in line with the typical brooding thought patterns in people with depression.

Above all, the Grübel hypothesis now explains the connection between neuroticism and creativity. According to the researchers, it arises from the tendency of neurotic personalities to ponder problems longer than the average person. As an example, they cite a well-known neurotic who gave birth to many novel approaches: the naturalist Isaac Newton. "I keep thinking about a topic, wait until it slowly dawns on me and finally I see the clear light," Newton once said about his problem-solving process.

“We are still a long way from a complete explanation of the causes of neuroticism and we do not claim any definitive answers. We hope, however, that our new theory can help those affected to make sense of their world of experience. We also want to emphasize that while neuroticism is uncomfortable, it can also bring creative benefits, ”said Perkins.

Original work by the researchers:

© Wissenschaft.de - Martin Vieweg
August 27, 2015