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Arrogance linked to the creative type of individual

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture

Are creative people more arrogant? Chances are you know some creative types, and there is also a good chance that they are a little full of themselves, especially if they have had any success in their field. Popular media also tends to support the stereotype of the creative artist full of hubris, and now a study confirms that these depictions tend to be truer to life than creative people would perhaps like to admit.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro didn’t quite characterize creative types as jerks, but they did paint a somewhat unflattering picture of them. The research psychologists asked more than 1,300 college students to complete a personality test and various creativity questionnaires. The data they collected was self-reported and measured creative abilities mainly in arts, crafts, drama, and creative writing.

The researchers identified six different personality traits which influenced creativity. They were: openness to experience, extroversion, emotionality, conscientiousness, agreeableness and honesty-humility.

(As an aside, I have no idea why honesty and humility were lumped together as a single, two-word hyphenated quality. To me, honesty and humility, though related, are distinct. It is quite possible to be humble but not honest)

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The quality most correlated with creativity was openness to experience – an appealing trait which tends to make an individual curious and broad-minded. Extroversion had a smaller but notable correlation with the creative personality. Agreeableness, emotionality and conscientiousness had no impact on creativity.

Honesty-humility, however, was a quality which was statistically less frequent in the creative type than average.

Paul Silvia, an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the study's lead author, was quick to point out that the research didn’t find a huge effect, which is research jargon for saying that not all creative people are insufferably arrogant. However, on average, “people with a lot of creative accomplishments were less humble and modest, “ he said.

While scoring low on honesty-humility may seem unappealing, Silvia says that it can actually be quite helpful to folks in creative fields. "You're going to have critics and detractors and people who discourage you from pursuing your creative vision," he said. The farther people get in a creative field, the louder the criticism gets, so it takes some self-assurance to stick with it and take creative risks.

On the other hand, creative individuals also need teachers and mentors who will help them develop their talents, network, and get their work out into the public, so they do need a measure of humility in order to tap into those resources. An overly arrogant individual risks becoming isolated from the creative community by displaying too much hubris. So humility will have a tendency to work its way into the personality as part of a system of checks and balances.

The research was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.