Why Creative People Are So Vain

by Anna North

via windu/Shutterstock.com

A new study shows that while highly creative people may be more open-minded than regular joes, they also tend to be more arrogant.

According to MSNBC, psychologists subjected 1,300 college students to “a personality test and various creativity questionnaires.” Of the six personality traits they looked at, they found that openness to new experiences was most strongly correlated with creativity. Extroversion and creativity were also linked. However, creative people were somewhat less likely to be humble. Says study author Paul Silvia, “Our research didn’t find a huge effect, and we certainly aren’t claiming that all creative people are insufferably arrogant but, on average, people with a lot of creative accomplishments were less humble and modest.” Silvia explains that a little arrogance in creative people could be a good thing, allowing them to withstand the constant criticism that comes with their vocation. But overly arrogant people may have trouble learning and improving.

The study raises a lot of questions, the most obvious one being: how do you measure creativity? There turn out to be a lot of ways, including asking participants to respond to a drawing or giving them a series of insight problems. MSNBC notes that in the arrogance study, the creativity data was self-reported, which narrows things down a bit. Some creativity self-assessments include the Khatena-Torrance Creative Perception Inventory, which asks subjects to rate how much they agree with statements like, “I have a vivid imagination,” and the Things Done on Your Own test, which asks how many times they have done creative things. Sadly, I couldn’t find an online version of either of these tests. I did, however, find the fearsomely-named CREAX test, which I gleefully took.

CREAX appears to combine a whole bunch of different kinds of tests to measure your creativity along different dimensions. I’m ashamed to say that I did pretty badly on it — I think I really bombed the part where it asked me if I like to look at “the bigger picture” (of what?). I did really enjoy one aspect of the test, though: the part where they ask you to list all the uses you can think of for a brick. This turns out to have a name — Guilford’s Alternative Uses Task. Some of my alternative uses included “put in yard and find bugs under” and “cooking implement for a troll,” and when I was done I was real proud of myself — which did give me some insight into why creative people might be arrogant.

My responses were essentially useless (trolls aren’t real), and so is much creative work. Novels, for instance, are wonderful, but you can’t use one to build a car or cure cancer. So if you’re going to write one, you have to have some internal conviction that it’s worthwhile. Ideally that conviction would take the form of “this work is awesome,” but it’s easy for that to bleed into “I’m awesome,” and some such bleeding may be necessary for you to convince yourself that you’re the one who needs to make the world yet another book. So maybe it’s lucky that creative people sometimes have an inflated idea of their own importance — if they didn’t, we might be condemned to a world without useless things.

Creative Types Are Full Of Themselves, Study Confirms [MSNBC]

Originally published on Jezebel. Republished WITH PERMISSION MOTHERF*CKERS.

Jezebel has written 39 articles for us.


  1. I work for a publishing company and my job is to work directly with the authors. I started two years ago and quickly came to the conclusion that it takes a very special kind of person to put so much time/energy into something like writing a book and they must think what they have to say is pretty important.

    I consider myself a creative person (I don’t write, but I try to be creative in other mediums). Just saying that makes me seem pretty arrogant, no?

    • Yeah, I feel like you need to have some degree of self-absorption to get ahead in a creative career. I’m a composer and a writer, and I’ve had enough people over the years discourage me from that and try to push me in the direction of something more “practical” – if I didn’t believe in my talents and believe that I had good ideas I needed to share with the world, I couldn’t survive in these areas.

  2. I *totally* agree with this:

    “Silvia explains that a little arrogance in creative people could be a good thing, allowing them to withstand the constant criticism that comes with their vocation.”

    An internet writer wouldn’t last a MONTH without at least a little bit of delusional self-confidence. The first time I published a freelance piece online, someone commented to say she couldn’t believe my own PARENTS could love me.

    The “I’m rubber, your’re glue” defense mechanism is an absolutely necessity for internet creative types. (Wherein glue is like, “Bitch, bitch, bitch.” And rubber is like, “Why don’t YOU trying being rubber, then?” And glue is like, “Bitch, bitch, bitch.” And rubber is like, “Whatever, you’re obviously not smart enough to understand what I’m saying.”)

      • “An internet writer wouldn’t last a MONTH without at least a little bit of delusional self-confidence.” I feel strongly about this (in a good way).

        Also HH good to see you here in AS! -random person in the interwebs who reads your articles on AfterEllen

  3. Most professions involve doing things other people have established for you to do, whether it be retail or farming or wall street or teaching. so you’re part of an institution of sorts, and you’re not alone.

    but i think being an artistic person, you have to believe that what you’re into is worth your while despite nobody else necessarily being into it (lacking the validation offered by a group or an establishment).

    but also i’m really insecure, so idk

  4. The problem with tests like these is that in my opinion there are a lot of different kinds of creativity. Sometimes all you need is one really big idea that happens to be supremely novel. Or you might be the kind of person who thinks of a million different little ideas that don’t have much to do with each other. Plus self-reporting gets into a separate world of things. I know some hella creative people who wouldn’t say they are creative.

    Not that this study is totally wrong, it does have some interesting insights. And we all know some geniuses are also insufferable jerks. :P

  5. You want to talk vanity, I can talk vanity. I write a lot of creative nonfiction. Not only is writing kind of wanky in and of itself, but I write about myself. And it makes me feel shitty a lot of times, like, “Why is my story worth telling?” But ultimately, you don’t know what’s going to speak to people or inspire them. And besides, if I don’t tell my story, then who will? The only time I’d really consider myself irredeemably vain is if I suddenly thought I’d reached the pinnacle of my talents and couldn’t possibly be any better.

    • This. I understand this, what you mean about creative nonfiction being especially wanky. Cause sometimes you feel like creative nonfiction is “THE ONLY TRUTH” and sometimes you’re like “oh my god this is a love letter to my own self absorption why am I so self centered I’m not so important that I should actually be writing this down”.

      On another note I’d def. be interested in reading your work as creative nonfiction can be hard to come by/learn about/critique

  6. I have a family of artists, politicians and nerds and we are all vain liars who can blow up anyone who docent agree.
    mother: visual artist, graphic designer, spoken word artest, producer
    Father: Radio host, computer programer
    Aunt: major mover in First nation politics in Canada
    Me:Graphic Designer, actor

    this was a really vain post

  7. I’d like to know more about how they defined arrogance and humility / modesty. Idk about the US b/c I’ve never been there but here it’s certainly impolite to admit pride in your achievements, personal characteristics, say that your work is good etc. When someone gives you a compliment the most polite thing to do is deflect it or feign surprise that something you’d done deserves praise. If you don’t do these things then you are arrogant, particularly if you are a woman.

    I guess what I’m saying is that ‘arrogance’ and ‘modesty’ are too socially complex to just take at face value – the thing AS did recently on the ‘humblebrag’ is a good example of how people seek to adhere to the cultural imperative to be modest, while making their achievements known…

    So I guess I am wondering how the study measures arrogance – is it merely speaking positively of your achievements and qualities and potential? Or did it actually test for some kind of delusive god-complex? If the former then I think its assumptions are worth questioning, although maybe I’m just arrogant ;)

  8. I 100% agree with this finding. The more creative and praised for your work you are, the higher your arrogance goes. I have to watch myself sometimes because I get praise for my poems. I’ve noticed as the more praise I get, the more judgmental about others works I am. Sometimes I have to remind myself to keep an open mind. So I agree with that finding.

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