You probably think of creative geniuses as tortured artists or inventors. They’re made miserable by their own minds. That stereotype, according to research, may not be too far off.
Neuroticism, characterizing a tendency for negative thoughts, is linked to not only “bouts of anxiety, depression, moodiness, panic attacks and stress” ("Why Geniuses Are Prone To Anxiety and Depression?"), but also to creativity.
Recent studies in neuroscience have put forth explanations based on the activity of certain regions of the brain. Focusing on self-generated thought (SGT) as the generator of neuroticism, a paper published in Cell concludes that SGT enables both creativity and unhappiness to result. The culprit is thought to be a region of the brain called the medial pre-frontal cortex, located behind the forehead, a region associated with threat-recognition. Hyperactivity of the medial pre-frontal cortex, even in environments with no real threat, may reflect threats that one’s mind has created on its own. High neuroticism may outwardly express such activity in the brain.
Another part of the brain involved with anxiety and fear, called the amygdala, may also be especially sensitive in people with higher neuroticism. As a scientific journalist put it, “It is the self-generated thoughts of these people that tend to make them miserable about so many things …Thanks to their sensitive amygdala, they end up making much larger problems out of these seemingly small difficulties, thereby increasing stress and anxiety even further.” ("Why Geniuses Are Prone To Anxiety and Depression?").
Despite the drawbacks of making mountains out of molehills, think about how neuroticism would aid in the creative process of coming to solutions to more difficult problems. If you tend to dwell on problems, wouldn’t you be more likely to come up with solutions?
Dr. Adam Perkins, an expert in the neurobiology of personality, reasons that “Many of our greatest breakthroughs through the years were a result of worry. Nuclear power? Worry over energy. Advanced weapons? Worry of invasion. Medical breakthroughs? Worry over illness and death.” (“New Research Says Overthinking Worriers Are Probably Creative Geniuses”).
Extensive worrying comes with a hefty price, at the expense of the body and mind, unfortunately. Despite the part it may have played in the development of revolutionary ideas, the aforementioned behaviors associated with neuroticism should not be taken lightly. Seek help if you experience depressive symptoms, extensive anxiety, or panic attacks.
Practically unreachable are the heights of Einstein or Picasso as creative geniuses, yet isn’t it interesting to think about the commonalities we share with others’ minds and where those features may lead us?
Note: By discussing the connection between neuroticism and creative genius, please understand that high neuroticism does not necessarily suggest that one is a creative genius, nor am I proposing that increasing neurotic behaviors would lead to higher creativity.
"Why Are Geniuses Prone To Anxiety And Depression?" Science ABC. Science ABC, 04 Nov.2015. Web. 27 July 2016.
"New Research Says Overthinking Worriers Are Probably Creative Geniuses." Higher Perspective. Higher Perspective, n.d. Web. 27 July 2016.
Perkins, Adam. "Thinking Too Much: Self-generated Thought as the Engine of Neuroticism." Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Elsevier, Sept. 2015. Web. 27 July 2016.