Creativity isn’t a trait we often associate with psychopaths, yet a new study shows creative people could exhibit some psychopathy.
Since The New York Times and The New Yorker first published their reports about sexual harassment accusations against Harvey Weinstein, both in October 2017, legions of high-profile men in several sectors have fallen from grace.
Over a year into the #MeToo movement, powerful men in entertainment, politics, media, and tech have seen their careers come to abrupt end.
We heard some bring up the old debate of should we separate the work from the man, or the art from the artist.
But what if this man is a psychopath who happens to be creative?
Contrary to popular belief psychopathy and creativity can coexist.
Some genius artists have shown a lack of empathy, lack of guilt, disinhibition, arrogance, bold behavior, and other psychopathic traits.
What’s more, psychophysiological studies have shed the light on the link between some psychopathic traits and psychopathy.
Creative Psychopaths: It’s a Gray Area
In 2010, Adrianne Galang, Professor of Psychology at De La Salle University in Manila (Philippines), published a paper that investigates the link between psychopathy and creativity.
In the article “The prosocial psychopath: Explaining the paradoxes of the creative personality”, Galang starts by noting the lack in scientific literature of research that address the psychological side of creativity.
“While acclaimed as revolutionary and pioneering visionaries, [creative people] can come across as unsocialized and discomfiting even to their close associates and admirers,” he says.
Then, in 2016, Galang and a team of researchers at La Salle’s Department of Psychology returned to his prosocial psychopath model of creativity and dug deeper with three studies.
The researchers looked at a sample of more than 500 randomly selected participants.
Over three studies, they gauged the participants’ “creativity”, such as in visual arts, creative writing, dance, architecture, and cooking, and categorized them from “banal” to “eminent” creator.
Then, the team measured participants’ dark side of personality, or the dark triad made of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.
According to authors of the new paper, creative people have some character traits often found in psychopaths.
However, it’s important to note the difference between a “prosocial” psychopath and a criminally-inclined psychopath.
Creative people with a prosocial nature tend to channel their audacity, boldness, and impulses into their work, and turn them into a driving force.
“The trickster, thief, and rascal are figures of myth that straddle both virtue and vice … [The trickster] is able to solve problems through cleverness, and always with liberal applications of skullduggery.” Creative people “might be equal parts genius and deviant.”
For creative individuals to stand out they have to rely on their “divergent thinking” instead of well-trodden paths and safe formulas.
Would Picasso’s name have stood the test of time without his “deviance”, without him breaking the rules of art through cubism?
It seems that divergent thinking, originality, creativity, and a bit of prosocial psychopathy all go hand in hand.
“We show, antisocial behaviors of the kind associated with psychopathic meanness and disinhibition do not seem essential to the creative personality. Instead, they just happen to coincide with it,” say researchers. “If the model proves useful going forward, it might be the cultivation of forms of boldness, while seeking to mitigate the more harmful forms of disinhibition, which would be the key to fostering creativity in both educational and professional settings.”