Kit Steinkellner
August 30, 2015 8:33 am

You know how people sometimes tell worriers that they have an “overactive imagination?” Even though those people are using the phrase to dismiss their neurotic friends/family/co-workers/neighbors/whoever, they may actually have a point. A team of researchers from King’s College London are now saying that over-thinkers have a possible creative edge over their worry-free counterparts.

“It occurred to me that if you happen to have a preponderance of negatively hued self-generated thoughts,” one of the researchers, Adam Perkins, told Forbes, “due to high levels of spontaneous activity in the parts of the medial prefrontal cortex that govern conscious perception of threat and you also have a tendency to switch to panic sooner than average people, due to possessing especially high reactivity in the basolateral nuclei of the amygdale, then that means you can experience intense negative emotions even when there’s no threat present. This could mean that for specific neural reasons, high scorers on neuroticism have a highly active imagination, which acts as a built-in threat generator.”

In other words, people who are worrying all the time are trying to solve problems that may not exist, but that highly-active imagination that worriers and over-thinkers exercise by, well, worrying and overthinking, can also be used as a force of good when it comes to tackling creative problems. In fact, it maybe be the non-worriers of the world that have to step up their creativity game.

“Cheerful, happy-go-lucky people by definition do not brood about problems and so must be at a disadvantage when problem-solving compared to a more neurotic person,” Perkins explained. “We have a useful sanity check for our theory because it is easy to observe that many geniuses seem to have a brooding, unhappy tendency that hints they are fairly high on the neuroticism spectrum. For example, think of the life stories of Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Vincent Van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, etc. Perhaps the link between creativity and neuroticism was summed up most succinctly of all by John Lennon when he said: ‘Genius is pain.’”

So, neurotics of the world unite and take heart, that thing that drives you crazy on a daily basis could also be the thing that makes you one for the ages.


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Image via NBC Universal