BY: ROB HOFFMAN
Overthinking, neurotic, worry-obsessed and anxious—according to a new study, these are the faces of creativity. This is good news for people who identify with an exhaustively over-worried personality, offering a fair trade between creative intellect and happiness.
Dr. Adam Perkins, lecturer in Neurobiology of Personality at King’s College, London, and one of the authors of the study, explains that neurotic behaviour—having a tendency to develop internal fear, stress or anxiety despite a non-threatening external situation—is indicative of a heightened imagination and creative capacity. It may seem obvious in hindsight, but the the formal study shines a light into the often dark lives of over-thinkers and stressed-out worrywarts. “Cheerful, happy-go-lucky people by definition do not brood about problems and so must be at a disadvantage when problem-solving compared to a more neurotic person,” says Perkins, whose theories have been supported with brain scan studies that connect neurotic brain function with the use of creative neural circuits.
As mentioned by The Independent, neuroticism is one of the “Big Five” personality traits used by psychologists to craft an understanding of one’s personality, among openness, conscientiousness, extraversion and agreeableness. These personality traits sit atop a pyramid that branches down into more specific aspects of character.
“Cheerful, happy-go-lucky people by definition do not brood about problems and so must be at a disadvantage when problem-solving compared to a more neurotic person,” Says Dr. Adam Perkins.
The significant boost of creativity in those with neurotic tendencies can be explained by the excess of self-generated thought (SGT), a term used to describe the thoughts that are not directly influenced by the external world, as we experience when we daydream, or situations in general where we are so immersed in thought that the outside world temporarily disappears—think long bus-rides, or sitting in a hospital waiting-room.
As explained in the study, SGT “facilitates creativity but can cause unhappiness,” to which Perkins offers examples like Kurt Cobain and Vincent Van Gogh. “We have a useful sanity check for our theory because it is easy to observe that many geniuses seem to have a brooding, unhappy tendency that hints they are fairly high on the neuroticism spectrum.” Other examples would include legendary creatives like Charles Darwin and Sir Issac Newton.
Though neurotic behaviour can be a great source of stress and unhappiness in life, I suppose so can be the inability to create. For this heightened capacity, over-thinking worriers everywhere can be grateful.