Is there any research or clues about whether anxious/calm people are more/less likely to be inventive / creative / develop innovations?

I am interested about this both on an individual and cultural (peoples) level.


"Mr. Scott? We need more POWER!" is the common call made to engineering from the bridge of the fictional Starship Enterprise. It seems common in science fiction for engineers to flourish under high amounts of pressure and overcome all odds. However this does not reflect reality.

For this answer I think it best to turn to Individual Psychology as the creative process is more about a person's preference and comfort than a series of predefined conditions or mental states. Creativity flourishes in certain environments. High gain/high anxiety reward based systems do not encourage creativity. Creative people can be taught to cope with the existence of a reward and overcome the pressure. Extrinsic motivation fosters competition and dependence on rewards which leads to performance anxiety. Intrinsic motivation leads to performance for one's own betterment at ones own pace and while it produces less results.

Depression, Bipolar and Schizophrenia are thought to be caused by stress and anxiety acting on a biological vulnerability. So creativity may be a response and outlet to the anxiety the illness or life causes for these individuals.

By themselves, artistic and creative people tend to experience higher anxiety and depression. However there are no conclusive causal relationships between depression and creativity. There have been stronger relationships between more serious mental illness like schizo typical and bipolar.

A study looking at 300,000 persons with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or unipolar depression, and their relatives, found overrepresentation in creative professions for those with bipolar disorder as well as for undiagnosed siblings of those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

-Creativity and mental disorder: family study of 300,000 people with severe mental disorder

  • $\begingroup$ This does not answer the question. The paper you reference "Motivation and creativity: Effects of motivational orientation on creative writers." investigates intrinsic and extrinsic motivation where they refer to extrinsic as e.g. approval/rewards. This is unrelated to the OP's question referring to anxiety/calmness. The other half of the answer about depression is entirely off topic. $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Jan 21 '14 at 15:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @StevenJeuris depression, bipolar and schizophrenia are thought to be caused by stress and anxiety acting on a biological vulnerability. so the presence of creativity during these illnesses is on topic. $\endgroup$ – user3832 Jan 21 '14 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ @StevenJeuris extrinsic rewards cause more stress and anxiety than intrinsic rewards which is also on topic. $\endgroup$ – user3832 Jan 21 '14 at 15:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Could you clarify that last point in the answer as well, preferably also distinguishing between your own deductions and between results from published work? $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Jan 21 '14 at 15:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer. I think it is generally a good idea to be as specific as possible. You could e.g. say, which of the criteria were not met. If it was temporality, that would be a different story as if it was one of the others. I personally think the expression "near causal relationship" is somewhat of an euphemism for "causal relationhip has not been established, even though it might exist". $\endgroup$ – Jens Kouros Jan 22 '14 at 22:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.