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Ego and Creativity

There is a scene in “The Social Network” in which Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is being deposed, as part of the legal process of being sued over the founding of his company.

He has an air of disdain and impatience with the proceedings, and comments to an attorney: “You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount.

“The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. [pauses]

“Did I adequately answer your condescending question?”

It was thrilling. Maybe because of my less than desirable levels of self-confidence and assertiveness.

(By the way, the movie is – according to a number of commenters and critics – mostly a work of fiction, as is the source book. And the real Zuckerberg has been described by co-workers and interviewers as shy and introverted, and caring about people he knows.)

How much do qualities such as confidence, self-assurance, or even arrogance, plus others often associated with a “big ego” relate to being creative?

In his paper The Abnormal Psychology of Creativity, Steven James Bartlett says, “artists, writers, and creative people in general score higher on a wide variety of measures of psychopathology – and are psychologically healthier (for example, they show quite elevated scores on measures of self-confidence and ego strength). (Kay Redfield Jamison, 1993, p. 97).

[From my post Creativity and madness: The Abnormal Psychology of Creativity.]

Many creators are renowned for their “narcissism” or egocentrism – like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, James Cameron, Martha Stewart and others.

And like many driven and high achieving creative leaders, they may also be somewhat hypomanic – which might be related to “ego.”

Another aspect, related to narcissism, may be the need for recognition – and many writers, singers, actors and others do seem to thrive on media attention.

But many don’t. One of my favorite actors, Hilary Swank (whom I admire for both the quality of her acting, and her spirit) doesn’t seem to have an ego-related need for acclaim.

In a new interview, she comments about winning her first Academy Award, “You just have to get back in touch with why you’re telling stories. And it’s not to win awards, although that’s an incredible feeling.” (The Actor’s Craft: Hilary Swank was born to play real-life roles, by Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times Oct 10, 2010.)

[Read more about her and see a video interview clip in my post Hilary Swank and Emotional Excitability.]

Ego – in the sense of distorted self-regard – can interfere with creative expression.

Responding to a magazine question: “What kills creativity?” actor Gillian Anderson replied succinctly, “Ego.”

But creativity teacher and writer Julia Cameron cautioned, “We tend to think, or at least fear, that creative dreams are egotistical… This thinking must be undone.”

From my article Ego and Creativity – which covers all this in more depth.

Ego and Creativity

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2010). Ego and Creativity. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 10 Oct 2010
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