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Does Being Neurotic Help Us Be More Creative?

Woody Allen

Woody Allen admits he has “a lot of neurotic habits. I don’t like to go into elevators, I don’t go through tunnels, I like the drain in the shower to be in the corner and not in the middle.”

With so much psychology related material in the news and culture, we may be especially concerned with whether our behavior is a disorder, or normal – whatever that is – and if our eccentricities can help us be more creative somehow.

What about all those “crazy” artists in history?

Peter D. Kramer, author of “Listening to Prozac” and “Against Depression” among other books, notes that “Diagnostic labels are proliferating, and mental disorders seem to be annexing ever more territory.”

He quotes Christopher Lane (author of “Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness”): “We’ve narrowed healthy behavior so dramatically that our quirks and eccentricities – the normal emotional range of adolescence and adulthood – have become problems we fear and expect drugs to fix.”

From my post You’re crazy. Or maybe not.

[Photo from Woody Allen interview: ‘Murder and death are very seductive’ by Robbie Collin, The Telegraph 29 August 2015.]

Rachel McAdams in SpotlightAnother example of quirks: one of my favorite actors Rachel McAdams (nominated for a 2016 Academy Award for her role in Spotlight) said in a 2007 magazine interview:

“I have major anxiety about crooked pictures. They just make me mental. I’m spatially sensitive.

“In the shower, I have to have the shampoo bottles set up right. I don’t want the writing facing. I want the label facing out.”

From my post Our High Sensitivity Personality.

(I must be much less neurotic: I prefer labels on shelves facing inward.)

Neurosis and creativity

Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman notes in another of his informative articles that there are many notions about being neurotic and creative – such as these article titles indicate:

Are you a worrier? Chances are you’re a GENIUS: Neurotic people are more likely to be imaginative and creative

Neurosis isn’t a disorder— and it may be a prerequisite for greatness.

Moody neurotics are more likely to be creative geniuses, study says

Kaufman declares:

“Unfortunately, these headlines don’t hold up to the evidence. While neuroticism has been associated with a host of negative outcomes (including imposter syndrome, stress, anxiety, impulsivity, depression, and impaired physical health) and even some positive outcomes (such as threat detection and increased vigilance), creative thinking doesn’t appear to be one of its correlates.

Scott Barry Kaufman“There’s so much we still don’t know about the creative mind, but what we do know suggests that being highly neurotic is not the magic sauce of creativity.”

In addition to mentioning other research, he writes that he and his colleagues “recently administered a battery of cognitive and personality tests to three demographically diverse samples, totaling 1,035 participants.

“The average correlation between neuroticism and creative achievement was zero. In fact, we found that the only personality trait that consistently predicted creative achievement across the arts and sciences was openness to experience.”

From The Myth of the Neurotic Creative, The Atlantic, Feb 29, 2016.

Scott Barry Kaufman is a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the scientific director of the Imagination Institute. He is the co-author, with Carolyn Gregoire, of Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind.

You can find many more quotes of his on my site The Creative Mind: Scott Barry Kaufman archives.


Does Being Neurotic Help Us Be More Creative?

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. (2016). Does Being Neurotic Help Us Be More Creative?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 26, 2019, from


Last updated: 6 Mar 2016
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