The dark side of creativity: Biological vulnerability and negative emotions lead to greater artistic creativity

“Artists are moody,” goes the old cliché. But does it have scientific merit? And, if people with certain dispositions are more likely to be creative than others, does environment play a role or is creativity set in stone?

In this study, nearly 100 people completed a standard creativity task: they manipulated triangles to form pictures then did a mock job interview involving a speech and a Q-and-A session. Evaluators gave either positive or negative feedback (participants in the control group gave the speech to an empty room). Afterwards, participants completed a questionnaire to measure their emotions, and made a collage out of a bunch of different materials—another standard creativity task.

People who got negative feedback tended to display more artistic creativity than other participants. This was especially true for those who had low levels of the hormone DHEAS, which is linked to depression. So people who were predisposed to feeling bad took the negative criticism particularly hard—and that down mood made them more creative.

If depression and criticism yield creativity, then it’s no wonder we’re flush with tortured artists. 

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