Have you ever noticed that creative geniuses often seem much stranger than the rest of us? The most current findings in brain imaging, creativity research, and molecular biology suggest that creativity and eccentricity go hand in hand. Scientists believe that both eccentricity and creativity are a result of how the brain filters incoming information.
To measure eccentricity, researchers often use scales that measure schizotypal personality. Schizotypal personality can appear in a variety of forms, such as magical thinking, unusual perceptual experiences, mild paranoia, and social anhedonia. Schizotypal personality is a milder form of the clinical psychiatric condition called schizotypal personality disorder, which grew out of a large epidemiological study in which researchers noticed that relatives of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia were more likely to exhibit odd behaviors and beliefs than relatives of those not afflicted with schizophrenia. Schizotypal people may not necessarily be eccentric in the way they dress or in their supernatural beliefs, in fact many of them are very intelligent and high functioning.
A study in 1966 revealed that children born of a schizophrenic mother but raised by “normal” foster parents were more likely to peruse a creative career than children adopted away from a non afflicted mother. Studies conducted by Australian and British researchers have shown that creative individuals score higher on scales of schizotypal personality than less creative individuals.
How does schizotypal personality come about? People are all equipped with mental filters that hide most of the processing that goes into our minds behind the scenes. Schizotypal people show a reduction in the functioning of these filters, thus becoming overwhelmed with information leading to strange perceptual experiences such as hearing voices or seeing imaginary people. The offbeat thoughts are a result of the increased amount of stimuli reaching conscious awareness.
Do strange thoughts actually promote a person’s ability for creativity? Research suggests that schizotypal personality does not necessarily promote creativity but that certain cognitive mechanisms that underlie eccentricity could also promote creative thinking.
Albert Einstein: picked up cigarette butts off the street to get tobacco for his pipe
Robert Schuman: believed that Beethoven channeled music to him
Charles Dickens: believed that characters from his books would follow him
Nikola Tesla: preferred to be alone working than to attend social gatherings
Howard Hughes: had a famous distrust of others and would spend days in a chair of a supposed “germ free zone”
John Nash: believed aliens from outer space were contacting him
Michael Jackson: obsessed with rhinoplasty
Salvador Dali: had an affection for dangerous pets