Mad Genius Revisited: Vulnerability to Psychopathology, Biobehavioral Approach-Avoidance, and Creativity

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Abstract

Although many believe that creativity associates with a vulnerability to psychopathology, research findings are inconsistent. Here we address this possible linkage between risk of psychopathology and creativity in nonclinical samples. We propose that propensity for specific psychopathologies can be linked to basic motivational approach and avoidance systems, and that approach and avoidance motivation differentially influences creativity. Based on this reasoning, we predict that propensity for approach-based psychopathologies (e.g., positive schizotypy and risk of bipolar disorder) associates with increased creativity, whereas propensity for avoidance-based psychopathologies (e.g., anxiety, negative schizotypy, and depressive mood) associates with reduced creativity. Previous meta-analyses resonate with this proposition and showed small positive relations between positive schizotypy and creativity and small negative relations between negative schizotypy and creativity and between anxiety and creativity. To this we add new meta-analytic findings showing that risk of bipolar disorder (e.g., hypomania, mania) positively associates with creativity (k = 28, r = .224), whereas depressive mood negatively associates (albeit weakly) with creativity (k = 39, r = −.064). Our theoretical framework, along with the meta-analytic results, indicates when and why specific psychopathologies, and their inclinations, associate with increased or, instead, reduced creativity.

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