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Highly Sensitive and Creative: Latent Inhibition

One technical term for the personality trait of high sensitivity is “sensory processing sensitivity” – because it involves increased sensory input and responsivity. There are some intriguing research studies on how this works at the level of the brain and nervous system and affects creative ability.

One study, for example, found that the brains of creative people appear to be more open to incoming stimuli from the surrounding environment.

(“Decreased Latent Inhibition Is Associated With Increased Creative Achievement in High-Functioning Individuals,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, September 2003.)

Another article quotes one of the authors, Shelley Carson, a Harvard psychologist: “Scientists have wondered for a long time why madness and creativity seem linked, particularly in artists, musicians, and writers.

“Our research results indicate that low levels of latent inhibition and exceptional flexibility in thought predispose people to mental illness under some conditions and to creative accomplishments under others.”

[From Creativity tied to mental illness, By William J. Cromie, Harvard University Gazette.]

A University of Toronto press release on the study explained, “Other people’s brains might shut out this same information through a process called ‘latent inhibition’ – defined as an animal’s unconscious capacity to ignore stimuli that experience has shown are irrelevant to its needs.

“Through psychological testing, the researchers showed that creative individuals are much more likely to have low levels of latent inhibition.

“This means that creative individuals remain in contact with the extra information constantly streaming in from the environment,” says co-author and University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson.

From article Creative people more open to stimuli from environment.

[The image is from the book The Sensitive Self, by Michael Eigen.]

This article continues in my post Highly sensitive people: latent inhibition and creativity.

Creative Intellect and Anxiety

One mental health challenge for highly sensitive and creative people can be anxiety.

“Over the last 12 years, through working with over 130,000 high anxiety sufferers, we have been able to collect data regarding character traits, genetics and environmental factors which has enabled us to characterize the typical profile of a person who has a predisposition to high anxiety conditions.

“Our data shows us that anxiety sufferers all share a superior level of creative intellect.”

That is from the article Creative intellect as a marker for genetic predisposition to high anxiety conditions by Charles Linden, creator of The Linden Method for anxiety treatment.

[The photo is Elle Fanning in the movie Phoebe in Wonderland – from my post Our high sensitivity personality: normalcy, wholeness, acceptance.]

Highly Sensitive and Creative: Latent Inhibition

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). Highly Sensitive and Creative: Latent Inhibition. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Oct 2010
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