Your favorite artist is probably a narcissist

British researchers report narcissists are more likely than most to engage in creative activities

By Tom Jacobs

Published October 8, 2013 12:30PM (EDT)

This piece originally appeared on Pacific Standard.

Pacific Standard Have you ever taken a drawing seminar or a creative writing class, looked around at your fellow students and thought, “There sure are a lot of narcissists in here”?

Recently published research suggests you were quite possibly right.

A new British study finds people with narcissistic tendencies are more likely than others to think of themselves as creative, and to engage in creative activities. If your opinion of yourself is unusually high, there's a good chance you long to share your brilliance with the rest of the world.

In the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity, a research team led by psychologist Adrian Furnham of University College London describes an experiment featuring 207 people The participants, a mix of undergraduates and college graduates, took a series of tests to measure the “big five” personality factors: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

In addition, they provided a self-assessment of their creativity (answering questions like “how innovative do you consider yourself?”), and indicated how many creative activities (out of a list of 34) they had engaged in during the past year. Those activities including “composed a poem” and “choreographed a dance."

Finally, they completed a condensed version of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Their answers were grouped into two categories, representing two different types of narcissism.

“Narcissism others” was calculated by measuring their response to statements such as “People always recognize my authority” and “I really like to be the center of attention." “Narcissism self” was based on their reaction to such self-aggrandizing statements as “I am more capable than other people.”

When the scores were added up, “Narcissism self” was the variable that most strongly predicted not only self-assessed creativity (no surprise there), but also engagement in creative activities. “Narcissism others” was also correlated with both measures of creativity, as were the personality traits of openness and extraversion.

It is important to note that this study did not measure whether narcissism is related to actual creativity, as measured by an objective outsider. Participants did not perform one of the standard tests to gauge creative thinking.

A 2010 Stanford University study, in which students came up with, and pitched, concepts that could form the basis of a movie, found the narcissists’ ideas were, on average, no better than anyone else’s. However, their in-person pitches were more persuasive, presumably because they believed in themselves so strongly. (It also found the presence of two narcissists in a collection of people boosted innovation, apparently because the competition between them set off creative sparks within the group.)

There’s no evidence at this point that narcissists are more creative than the rest of us. But there is evidence that they think they are, and that that belief drives them to try their hand at various creative pursuits.

So, yes, that guy at the easel next to yours may indeed believe he’s the next Picasso. But the proof will be in the painting.

Tom Jacobs

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