There are a lot of things I want to be true. I wish that binge watching New Girl on Netflix made me lose weight. I wish every time I took a shower, I stepped out with a profound insight about human existence. And perhaps most of all, I wish my sometimes-crippling anxiety had a really big upside.
If I weren’t a psychologist who studies creativity, I’d find much comfort in the following headlines:
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. 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.
But still, belief in this magic sauce persists not only in popular media, but in the research community as well. In a recent issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences, a group of psychologists led by Adam Perkins, a lecturer in neurobiology at King’s College London, published a column titled “Thinking Too Much: Self-Generated Thought as the Engine of Neuroticism.” (Although the paper was an opinion piece rather than a new study, the authors did draw on a number of prior studies.) Perkins and his colleagues argued that neurotic people may have a more active “threat generator”—in addition to being afraid of immediate threats in the environment (which was already known to be high in neurotic people), perhaps they’re also constantly being fed concerns about things that only exist in their imagination.