Creativity is very messy.
According to one prominent theory, the creative process involves four stages: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. This is all well and good in theory. In reality, the creative process often feels like this:
The creative process — from the first drop of paint on the canvas to the art exhibition — involves a mix of emotions, drives, skills, and behaviors. It’d be miraculous if these emotions, traits and behaviors didn’t often conflict with each other during the creative process, creating inner and outer tension. Indeed, creative people are often seen as weird, odd, and eccentric.
Over the years, scientists have attempted to capture the personality of creative people. But it hasn’t been easy putting them under the microscope. As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has interviewed creative people across various fields points out, creative people “show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an “individual,” each of them is a “multitude.”
So how can we possibly bring order to the messy minds of creators? A new paper offers some hope. Psychologists Guillaume Furst, Paolo Ghisletta and Todd Lubart present an integrative model of creativity and personality that is deeply grounded in past research on the personality of creative people.
Bringing together lots of different research threads over the years, they identified three “super-factors” of personality that predict creativity: Plasticity, Divergence, and Convergence.
The Super-Factors of Personality
Plasticity consists of the personality traits openness to experience, extraversion, high energy, and inspiration.* The common factor here is high drive for exploration, and those high in this super-factor of personality tend to have a lot of dopamine — “the neuromodulator of exploration” — coursing through their brains. Prior research has shown a strong link between Plasticity and creativity, especially in the arts.
Divergence consists of non-conformity, impulsivity, low agreeableness, and low conscientiousness. People high in divergence may seem like jerks, but they are often just very independent thinkers. This super-factor is close to Hans Eysenck’s concept of “Psychoticism.” Throughout his life, Eysenck argued that these non-conforming characteristics were important contributors to high creative achievements.
Finally, Convergence consists of high conscientiousness, precision, persistence, and critical sense. While not typically included in discussions of creativity, these characteristics are also important contributors to the creative process.
The researchers found that Convergence was strongly related to Plasticity. In other words, those who were open to new experiences, inspired, energetic, and exploratory tended to also have high levels of persistence and precision. The common factor here is most likely high energy. Perspiration and inspiration feed off each other, leading to even higher energy levels.
Nevertheless, these three super factors were at least partially distinct. For instance, those with high openness to experience and inspiration weren’t necessarily rebellious, impulsive, critical, or motivated to achieve.
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