delanceyplace.com -- why some people are creative -- 12/23/13
Delanceyplace.com End of Year Encore Week: This year a full week on creativity.
In today's encore selection -- from "The Unleashed Mind: Why Creative People Are Eccentric" by Shelley Carson. Many highly creative people behave in ways that are viewed as eccentric. Why? Researchers are finding that their creativity and their eccentricity are rooted in the same cause -- a diminished ability to filter out nearly as much of the constant stream of information as the average person, and thus the need to process and organize this information in untypical ways. The term for this trait is "cognitive disinhibition":
"Many highly creative people [display] personal behavior [that] sometimes strikes others as odd. Albert Einstein picked up cigarette butts off the street to get tobacco for his pipe; Howard Hughes spent entire days on a chair in the middle of the supposedly germ-free zone of his Beverly Hills Hotel suite; the composer Robert Schumann believed that his musical compositions were dictated to him by Beethoven and other deceased luminaries from their tombs; and Charles Dickens is said to have fended off imaginary urchins with his umbrella as he walked the streets of London. ...
"In fact, creativity and eccentricity often go hand in hand, and researchers now believe that both traits may be a result of how the brain filters incoming information. Even in the business world, there is a growing appreciation of the link between creative thinking and unconventional behavior, with increased acceptance of the latter. ...
"In the past few decades psychologists and other scientists have explored the connection using empirically validated measures of both creativity and eccentricity. To measure creativity, researchers may look at an individual's record of creative achievements, his or her involvement in creative activities or ability to think creatively (for example, to come up with new uses for ordinary household items). To measure eccentricity, researchers often use scales that assess schizotypal personality. ... Schizotypal personality is a milder version of the clinical psychiatric condition called schizotypal personality disorder, which is among a cluster of personality disorders labeled 'odd or eccentric' in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. ... Not all schizotypal people have a personality disorder, however. They are often very high functioning, talented and intelligent. Many of my students at Harvard University, for example, score far above average on schizotypal scales, as well as on creativity and intelligence measures. ...
"My research suggests that these manifestations of schizotypal personality in and of themselves do not promote creativity; certain cognitive mechanisms that may underlie eccentricity could also promote creative thinking, however. In my model of how creativity and eccentricity are related, I theorize that one of these underlying mechanisms is a propensity for cognitive disinhibition. ...
"Cognitive disinhibition is the failure to ignore information that is irrelevant to current goals or to survival. We are all equipped with mental filters that hide most of the processing that goes on in our brains behind the scenes. So many signals come in through our sensory organs, for example, that if we paid attention to all of them we would be overwhelmed. Furthermore, our brains are constantly accessing imagery and memories stored in our mental files to process and decode incoming information. Thanks to cognitive filters, most of this input never reaches conscious awareness. There are individual differences in how much information we block out, however; both schizotypal and schizophrenic individuals have been shown to have reduced functioning of one of these cognitive filters, called latent inhibition (LI). Reduced LI appears to increase the amount of unfiltered stimuli reaching our conscious awareness and is associated with offbeat thoughts and hallucinations. ...
"Reduced cognitive filtering could explain the tendency of highly creative people to focus intensely on the content of their inner world at the expense of social or even self-care needs. (Beethoven, for example, had difficulty tending to his own cleanliness.) When conscious awareness is overpopulated with unusual and unfiltered stimuli, it is difficult not to focus attention on that inner universe. In 2003, my colleague Jordan Peterson and I reported [that] ... we think that the reduction in cognitive inhibition allows more material into conscious awareness that can then be reprocessed and recombined in novel and original ways, resulting in creative ideas. ...
"A brain-imaging study, done in 2010 by investigators at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, suggests the propensity for both creative insights and schizotypal experiences may result from a specific configuration of neurotransmitter receptors in the brain. Using positron-emission tomography, Örjan de Manzano, Fredrik Ullén and their colleagues examined the density of dopamine D2 receptors in the subcortical region of the thalamus in 14 subjects who were tested for divergent-thinking skills. The results indicate that thalamic D2 receptor densities are diminished in subjects with high divergent-thinking abilities, similar to patterns found in schizophrenic subjects in previous studies. The researchers believe that reduced dopamine binding in the thalamus, found in both creative and schizophrenic subjects, may decrease cognitive filtering and allow more information into conscious awareness.
"Clearly, however, not all eccentric individuals are creative. Work from our lab indicates that other cognitive factors, such as high IQ and high working memory capacity, enable some people to process and mentally manipulate extra information without being overwhelmed by it. Through a series of studies, we have, in fact, shown that a combination of lower cognitive inhibition and higher IQ is associated with higher scores on a variety of creativity measures. The shared vulnerability model suggests that at least a subgroup of highly creative individuals may share some (but not all) biological vulnerability factors with individuals who suffer from psychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia. This vulnerability may allow the highly creative person access to ideas and thoughts that are inaccessible to those of us with less porous mental filters."
|"The Unleashed Mind: Why Creative People Are Eccentric"|
|Scientific American Mind|