If you are a tense and moody neurotic, take heart – you could also be a creative genius, as a new study backs up the belief that neurotic misery and imagination go hand in hand.
It could explain why so many original thinkers, such as the famously neurotic artist Vincent van Gogh, the film-maker Woody Allen or scientist Sir Isaac Newton, suffered for their art. What such individuals have in common is a brain more sensitive to perceived threats than those of other people. And that “panic button” tendency is closely linked to an overactive, threat-generating imagination, say psychologists.
The personality expert Dr Adam Perkins, from King’s College London, said: “We’re still a long way off from fully explaining neuroticism ... but we hope our new theory will help people make sense of their own experiences, and show that although being highly neurotic is by definition unpleasant, it also has creative benefits.
“Hopefully our theory will also stimulate new research as it provides us with a straightforward unifying framework to tie together the creative aspects of neuroticism with its emotional aspects.”
Neuroticism is one of the “big five” personality traits recognised by psychologists, along with openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness. It is characterised by negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, worry, frustration, envy and loneliness.
Support for the idea that neuroticism is associated with creativity has come from brain scan studies highlighting neural circuits that regulate self-generated thought.
A “panic button” in the amygdala, a key emotional centre in the brain, is believed to trigger an inappropriate fear response after perceived threats are conjured up in the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex. “High scorers on neuroticism have a highly active imagination, which acts as a built-in threat generator,” said Dr Perkins.
Activity in the medial prefrontal cortex is also a powerful creative force, say the researchers, who explain their theory in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
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