Dark side of Creativity

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The dark side of creativity: Original thinkers can be more dishonest, by Gino, Francesca; Ariely, Dan

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 102(3), Mar 2012, 445-459.

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers demonstrate that creativity can lead people to behave unethically.  In five studies, the authors show that creative individuals are more likely to be dishonest, and that individuals induced to think creatively were more likely to be dishonest.

Abstract of Paper

Creativity is a common aspiration for individuals, organizations, and societies. Here, however, we test whether creativity increases dishonesty. We propose that a creative personality and a creative mindset promote individuals’ ability to justify their behavior, which, in turn, leads to unethical behavior. In 5 studies, we show that participants with creative personalities tended to cheat more than less creative individuals and that dispositional creativity is a better predictor of unethical behavior than intelligence (Experiment 1). In addition, we find that participants who were primed to think creatively were more likely to behave dishonestly than those in a control condition (Experiment 2) and that greater ability to justify their dishonest behavior explained the link between creativity and increased dishonesty (Experiments 3 and 4). Finally, we demonstrate that dispositional creativity moderates the influence of temporarily priming creativity on dishonest behavior (Experiment 5). The results provide evidence for an association between creativity and dishonesty, thus highlighting a dark side of creativity.

The experimenters primed to pump, so to speak, by getting the people to work on exercises that have shown experimentally in the past to get creative people thinking in a more creative way.  After the experiments they used a roll of a single die to determine the amount of pay for the work they would get – roll a 1 you get $1 roll a 4 you get $4.  Thus the average compensation for the study should have been $3.5 dollars.   It was found that when asked to roll the die once, people not primed with creativity were relatively honest.  Individuals primed with creativity, on the other hand, behaved much more dishonestly, reporting much higher die rolls on average.

These studies demonstrate that there is indeed a dark side to creativity.  Perhaps, given this information, it should come as no surprise that the best and brightest in many fields are frequently caught in all manner of transgressions.

I was drawn to the study and somewhat embraced it just by the title.  I have found dishonest people to be, on the whole, much more creative that the rest of us and much more ready to justify their actions – even if in some torturously convoluted fashion.  I am troubled with the selection of the study subjects and the method of the tests.  I would like to see something much more rigorous – no – much more real world.  I would like to see a study working with those who have been convicted of financial crime, those who are auditors, members of the boards of companies – people who have been more vetted by life and it trials for the subjects of the study. I’d like to see how the study comports with some of our western philosophers such as Nietzsche and Russell, just wondering.

The short comings in my mind are those who are willing to flout the rules have to have the creativity to know how to break the rules with not only not injury to themselves, but creating a benefit.  Thus, the mind not only has to be creative but also calculating to be successful.  Part of that calculation is the ability to ascertain what choices will yield the best results on whole.  Creativity does not spawn criminals and not all criminals are creative I will swear to that) thus there is a nexus we are missing that may be able to be teased out of a more real world and notorious sample sets.

Either way this is an interesting study.

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