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article imageOp-Ed: Why are creative people eccentric?

By Jacki Viles     Dec 21, 2011 in Science
Researchers have been pondering the association between ultra creative thinkers and eccentric behavior since ancient times. There are countless examples of highly creative individuals who have known atypical personality traits.
You probably know someone just like this. Perhaps it’s the neighbor who you rarely ever see. Maybe you’ve perceived him as something of a workaholic? You don’t know what he does. He stays to himself. If you were to drum up a conversation you may find him to be a little shy and maybe his thought process is a little too weird.
Albert Einstein, it is said, did not talk until the age of 3. He never drove a car and never wore socks. His life is filled with idiosyncrasies and he himself claimed not to be anything special. He always said he was just very curious. Curiosity indeed. His name is synonymous with the term ‘Genius’.
Einstein the senior citizen
So do you think Einstein cared about a dress code for senior citizens?
The late Steve Jobs was clearly an alternative thinker. He drove a car without a license plate. Perhaps because he didn’t think it was aesthetically pleasing. He was a vegetarian and a follower of eastern religion before it was popular to do so. He wore a black mock turtleneck and denim for many years because he said it was easier. He was not known to be a people person. Many people who worked for him were terrified of the man. More than just an astute businessman; Jobs was a visionary.
Over the past 40 years the scientific community has tried to link eccentric behavior (schizotypal behavior) and high creativity through a number of different outlets. Scientific American has published an article outlining a variety of case studies indicating that creativity and eccentricity go hand in hand due to a difference in the way the brain filters information in certain individuals. You can read the complete article with analysis here.
The mad scientist and the brilliant but crazy artist both show signs of cognitive disinhibition. The mind is bombarded with so much information that is normally filtered away by the average person. Creative eccentrics show a reduced capacity to filter out information. The article points out that one of the known cognitive filters, called the latent inhibition filter may, in its diminished capacity be what is responsible for hallucinations, hearing voices and seeing imaginary people.
Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash, whose story was told in the book ‘A Beautiful Mind’ was a schizophrenic mathematician who may very well have a reduced latent inhibition filter combined with extraordinary intelligence.
It must be said that not every eccentric personality is also a creative genius. The combination of intelligence and the ability to take in more information and assimilate the details makes for a very high functioning individual. These people generally feel out of place socially. They are usually very aware that they don’t fit in.
But times are changing and the lateral thinkers and the creative masterminds are being sought out in many businesses. As far back as the mid 1990’s Microsoft famously began asking unusual and provocative questions in their hiring interviews. The popular question which found itself as part of the hiring questionnaire in many technology companies is, ‘why are manhole covers round?’ I myself have been asked that question on 3 occasions in my career. The answers provide insight to the thought process of the candidate. I have asked that question myself to a few applicants and it is nothing but insightful.
Universities are offering classes to students to teach lateral thinking skills in order to hone their job hunting skills. Human Resource specialists are tasked with asking questions to elicit the desired response out of applicants. The highly intellectual, mildly eccentric and creative applicant is in great demand.
The feeling of being a square peg in a round hole may turn out to be the perfect fit.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about creative development, eccentric behavior, Genius
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