Why Weird People Are Often More Creative

The amount of information that's getting into your mind determines how creative--or crazy--you might be.

When Albert Einstein came across a cigarette butt, he would often pick it up--fuel for the ol' tobacco pipe. When Charles Dickens walked around London, he would often be wielding his umbrella--the best defense for imaginary street urchins. When Björk goes to an awards show, she might dress like a swan--what could be more genius? Or beautiful? Or weird?

As more than a decade's research is showing, genius and madness are basically best friends. What's interesting is why.

A lot of it has to do with the aperture through which you receive information. Our sense organs are constantly sending tons of information to our minds--which interact with memories and images from the past--creating a ton of work for our minds as they filter relevant from irrelevant data. Having a super strong filter can be awesome, as it provides for feats of attention. However, having less of a filter is linked with mental illness--and creativity.

While most have us have a fair amount of latent inhibition helping us to filter out irrelevant data, creative (and maybe also psychotic) people aren't quite so ordered, making for what Harvard psychologist Shelley Carson calls cognitive disinhibition. She defines it as "the failure to ignore information that is irrelevant to current goals or to survival." In other words, it's allowing for more info to come in than seems immediately beneficial.

For example:

A person with low latent inhibitions would not only see a yellow desk lamp, they may also think of bananas, Spongebob Squarepants, or Spongebob Squarepants eating a banana, or possibly concoct a whole dissertation in their head about whether or not Spongebob likes to eat bananas, or how he could get them down in the ocean

In a 2003 study, Carson found that eminent creative achievers were seven times more likely to to have low rather than high latent intelligence scores. That insight prompted her to form a hypothesis: that cognitive disinhibiting allows for way more info to enter into your conscious mind--which you can then tinker with and recombine. The result: creative ideas.

Carson's research gives us another angle for unpacking the nature of creativity: while we see the outputs in the form of a gorgeous painting, a masterful novel, or a "disruptive" business, that only comes as the result of recombining inputs--the experiences that you soak your mind in.

Which is why you might want to stay open.

Hat tip: Farnam Street

[Image: Flickr user Pulicciano]

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16 Comments

  • kaelaqueenlive

    "A person with low latent inhibitions would not only see a yellow desk lamp, they may also think of bananas, Spongebob Squarepants, or Spongebob Squarepants eating a banana, or possibly concoct a whole dissertation in their head about whether or not Spongebob likes to eat bananas, or how he could get them down in the ocean"

    So basically creative people think.

  • I welcome being weird. It helps with my creative process (especially for logo design) which at first glance most people interpret as being "random". It plays out exactly like that Spongebob reference aforementioned.

  • Correction: "In a 2003 study, Carson found that eminent creative achievers were seven times more likely to to have low rather than high latent intelligence scores."

    This sentence should say they were more likely to have low rather than high latent inhibition scores.

  • Marc Posch

    Isn't "weird" a term middle-of-the-road vanilla people use to classify eccentrics? I think it's a slippery slope to create a connecting between genius and a psychological disorder. What you call weird, I simply call creative, and we can't have enough of that in this vanilla world.

  • Greg Bryla

    Does this replace, alter or add to the definition of ADD? Cognitinive disinhibition is what allows me to do what I do! Putting together ideas using parts of the context's imagery, character and history other people dont "see" and prrhaps mixing it with parallel thoughts from other fields.

  • Chua Cheng Hong

    Albert Einstein have an IQ of 160 and the article use him as an example. However, soon followed to say that creative people are generally more dumb?

  • Deda Daniels

    there is a mistake in the article... it's not latent intelligence, it's latent inhibition. The 2003 study was conducted on people with high IQ score... LI and IQ are not the same :D I hope this helps.

  • Baich Essadiq

    a reasonable man try to adapt himself to world an unreasonable man try to adapt the world to himself therfore all progress and innovations are lead by the unreasonable man. that explain it all for me

  • Luciana Amaral

    Very interesting! I'd like to know more about the difference between creative eccentric people and the ones who mainly just crave attention, though. We see it a lot in celebrities who pretend to be artists by pretending to be crazy.

  • People with LLI don't always act weird. We learn very early in life (elementary school) it doesn't go well if we say what's on our mind. It confuses people and teachers don't like to be confused by kids :) However, it's easy to find a way around it; always two steps ahead.

  • Yes but people with with LLI literally have to work harder at staying sane. As they have all kinds of thoughts and ideas and tangents, leading to all kinds of new ideas, it can easily also lead them to worry too much. Or just interrupting people who immediately think they are rude, when they got a great idea from something that was said. Or just saying something that is not socially appropriate. Unless they develop coping skills, that is. They need to develop themselves this way much more than the average person in order to stay sane. Hope that clears it up!

  • Sylvie Novi

    haha yes! or one could say: They need to develop themselves this way much more than the average person in order to APPEAR sane."

    cheers :))