Hunter S. Thompson once said that “some may never live, but the crazy never die.” This groundbreaking writer was certainly a fan of embracing a sense of impulsive madness, and new research reveals that he may have been on to something.
As a new study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences reveals, many of those with psychopathic tendencies can also be incredibly creative. Although you don’t have to be a psychopath to be creative, it appears that being able to think ruthlessly and boldly certainly helps.
“We argue that emotional disinhibition, in the form of psychopathic boldness, is actually integral to some creative personalities and functionally related to the creative process,” the team of psychologists from De La Salle University in the Philippines wrote in their study.
Being a psychopath can actually help you rise in your career. Tom Simpson/Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Their paper begins with references to Loki, the Norse mischief-maker, noting that “the trickster, thief, and rascal are figures of myth that straddle both virtue and vice.” Simply put, being a psychopath doesn’t force you to be on just one side of that divide.
If you are able to switch off your empathy, find yourself making highly impulsive decisions, and tend to not feel remorse too strongly, you’re likely to be somewhat psychopathic. It’s one of the dark triad of personality traits, with Machiavellianism (the ability to manipulate others) and narcissism (self-obsessiveness) being the other two.
In fact, as numerous studies have shown, being a psychopath can be quite advantageous, as long as you’re able to be fairly Machiavellian at the same time. Intriguingly, however, this new study shows that being an uninhibited psychopath could boost your creative spark.
First off, 503 participants were given a test to determine how highly they scored on the dark triad spectrum. Those that ranked highly on the psychopath metric tended to agree with statements like “payback needs to be quick and nasty.”
The second part asked participants about their involvement in 10 different creative domains, including scientific discovery, culinary arts, visual arts and dance. Alongside a list of activities, they were asked to check off various statements that agreed with their associated level of achievement, from the mundane (“I have taken lessons in this area”) to the eminent (“my work has appeared in national publications”).
"The Scream" by Edvard Munch, an artist known to be somewhat impulsive and bold. WebMuseum at ibiblio/Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain
The data from this creative achievement questionnaire (CAQ) was compared to the dark triad test scores. Narcissism correlated fairly strongly with high CAQ scores, although the authors of the study reference other research suggesting that narcissists tend to “self-enhance” their achievements. Basically, they lie about them.
Psychopaths also strongly correlated with high CAQ scores. Compared to narcissists, psychopaths tend to lie less often, so this correlation is probably more robust.
The same tests were given to 250 college students, along with an additional metric designed to assess what kind of psychopathic traits they may have. Those with the highest CAQ scores tended to be bold – in that they feared and stressed out about little – and emotionally disinhibited, which meant they had problems with self-control and frequently disregarded social conventions.
So if you want to be more creative in life, being a bold, unadulterated psychopath might just be your ticket to success. Ultimately, this study provides more evidence that psychopaths shouldn’t necessarily be marginalized.
“It could turn out that the price of human discovery, whether we like it or not, is to give the trickster more credit,” the authors conclude.