Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Creativity and Eysenck's Psychoticism trait

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Hans J Eysenck (1916-1997) was one of the few psychologists of near-genius ability to engage seriously with the question of genius.


(See his book Genius of 1995).

He regarded the essence of genius as a combination of high intelligence with creativity: the mechanism being that creativity generated the raw material and intelligence provided the evaluation mechanism.

And therefore much of Eysenck's contribution focused on the correlation between the trait of Psychoticism with creativity.

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Psychoticism is a trait which is more often moderately high in men than women - and it includes at least three main strands:

1. The 'psychotic' aspect which is seen as a style of thinking characterized by broad field of association between concepts. (The opposite would be a narrowly predictable sequence of thoughts: if you start at A you will always get to B).

This style of thinking may be familiar from recalled dreams where one thing reminds of another thing, similarities are felt between things lacking a tight 'logical' connection, and the train of thought seems loose and unpredictable. It is also found in psychotic illnesses, intoxication, and of course the trance-like state reported by some creative people such as artists and scientists.

This aspect of Psychoticism is pretty much the same thing as Schizotypy.

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2. Impulsiveness, spontaneity, desire for rapid gratification. (The opposite is conscientiousness, ability to sustain work at something which is uninteresting, sacrificing present gratification for future gratification.)

This aspect of Psychoticism is pretty much the opposite of Conscientiousness.

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3. Emotional detachment, unawareness or indifference to feelings of others, selfishness. (The opposite is empathic tuning-into the emotions of others, sympathy with their feelings, fitting-in with the views of others - not wanting to offend or be ostracized.)

This aspect of Psychoticism is pretty much the opposite of Agreeableness (or Simon Baron Cohen's Empathizing).

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Looking across the aspects, it can be seen that moderately high Psychoticism is a pattern of preferences which is suited to genuinely creative thinking which - when combined with high intelligence - may lead to 'breakthoughs' into qualitatively different forms of understanding. In other words: genius.

But it also shows why there is a dark side to genuine creativity, since many of the traits of Psychoticism are awkward or actively undesirable.

The concept of the high Psychoticism genius therefore strikingly resembles the shaman of hunter gatherer societies - respected but feared and often isolated - useful but usually semi-crazy and sometimes actually-crazy. Or the prophets of the Old Testament. Or the mad scientists (some eccentric, some dangerous) of modern popular stories.

These are individuals who we may admire, may be grateful to - but seldom like - and seldom want to be-like.

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By contrast, modern mainstream ideas of creativity are sanitized fakes of pseudo-creativity - and usually focus on the personality trait called Openness to Experience: a scale which is (de facto) 'How much do you resemble the stereotypical Leftist intellectual elite member'.

High Openness is a measure of highbrow interests, love of the new (neophilia), and all those modernist concepts of art as being 'radical', 'challenging', 'subversive' etc.

Openness-'creativity' is about being anti-traditional, anti-Christian, anti-'conventional' - it is bohemian rebellion.

The High Openness person is a culture vulture whose idea of creativity is someone like Malcolm Gladwell. A high empathizing, highly agreeable, conscientious pick-and-mix, inversion and re-combination of pre-existing ideas constrained implicitly within the Leftist world-view.

This is the kind of Openness-'creativity' promoted by educationalists and government bureaucracies, subsidized, and lionized by high status highbrow media with profiles and groups of the Ten most-promising geniuses of today, and 'cool' viral video web lectures.

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In sum, the fake creativity of Openness may be charming; while real Psychoticsm creativity is not.

Indeed, Openness-creativity has all the advantages over genuine creativity: except that it is a parasitic fake.

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Eysenck's Psychoticism is - in academic circles - generally supposed to have been superceded; and in terms of academic fashion it has been superseded.

For one thing high Psychoticism is too rare among the usual psychology study populations (i.e. university students) so that its distribution is positively skewed (mostly low scorers).

And there are flaws in Eysenck's scale - especially that he does not include direct questions on the 'psychotic' aspects of Psychoticism - which is confusing and potentially distorting.

But the basic concept of Psychoticism is substantially correct and important - as would be expected from a man who was pretty much a high-Psychoticism genius himself - unlike the high-Openness personality psychologists who followed after him.

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And indeed academics themselves, including scientists, have become almost uniformly high-Openness types. Those high in trait Psychoticism are filtered-out by a prolonged and multi-stage selection process that - at every level - explicitly favours women (lower in trait Psychoticism), and implicitly selects those high in Conscientiousness and Agreeableness; while being indifferent to, or punishing, genuine creativity and the impulsive and autonomous behaviours necessary to it.

The situation in the modern university or research institutions is therefore better in every way and for everybody - except that it is a parasitic fake.

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