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The Creative Personality: Imagination and Grounded Reality

Schizotypy, a milder version of schizophrenia, can enhance creative expression for some people.

Some research studies have found that artists and schizophrenics scored equally high on “unusual cognition.”

So how “unusual” can our imagination get to still be “sane” yet creative?

In his article “The Creative Personality…” psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes that creative people “alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.”

He thinks that notable art and science “involve a leap of imagination into a world that is different from the present” which can lead most people to judge such new ideas as “fantasies without relevance to current reality.”

“And they are right,” he adds. “But the whole point of art and science is to go beyond what we now consider real and create a new reality.”

This “escape” into fantasy is not into a never-never land, such as with schizophrenia.

“What makes a novel idea creative is that once we see it, sooner or later we recognize that, strange as it is, it is true.

“Most of us assume that artists – musicians, writers, poets, painters – are strong on the fantasy side, whereas scientists, politicians, and businesspeople are realists.”

He notes “This may be true in terms of day-to-day routine activities. But when a person begins to work creatively, all bets are off.”

So what about ink blots?

In his book “Creativity…” he adds some interesting comments about testing artists using projective tests like the Rorschach (ink blot) or the Thematic Apperception Test.

Csikszentmihalyi explains, “These require you make up a story about some ambiguous stimuli, such as inkblots or drawings, that could represent almost anything.”

In his research, he found that more creative artists “gave responses that were definitely more original, with unusual, colorful, detailed elements.

“But they never gave ‘bizarre’ responses, which normal people occasionally do. A bizarre response is one that, with all the goodwill in the world, one could not see in the stimulus.

“For instance if an inkblot looks vaguely like a butterfly, and you say that it looks like a submarine without being able to give a sensible clue as to what in the inkblot made you say so, the response would be scored as bizarre.”

Surprisingly perhaps, “Normal people are rarely original, but they are sometimes bizarre.

“Creative people, it seems, are original without being bizarre. The novelty they see is rooted in reality.”

Article: The Creative Personality: Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality, By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

The traits are discussed more in his classic book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

Also see my earlier article Creative Thinking and Schizophrenia.

The Creative Personality: Imagination and Grounded Reality

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. (2011). The Creative Personality: Imagination and Grounded Reality. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Mar 2011
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