Why Creative People Are More Unethical

Stereotypes about creatives abound: that they're moody, depressive, intelligent, and difficult to work with. But there might be something to at least one of these stereotypes, because emerging evidence suggests that creativity makes people more unethical (via Pacific Standard). As psychologists from Syracuse University and Northwestern University recently found from sampling an experimental population of bosses and their subordinates, individuals who perceived themselves as creative were more entitled and dishonest.

The most interesting part of these findings, though, is that the ill moral effects of creativity are mediated by the fact that creative people think that creativity is rare. So these findings are kind of more about what happens when people feel they're really special than about what happens when people have a bunch of creative energy, per se. And thinking you're more special than you are certainly isn't limited to creative people — very many of us, for various reasons, think we're more special than makes any sense objectively. Part of growing up is learning to get over yourself a little bit, but this happens faster for some people than others.

At the end of the day, being a quick and flexible thinker (often a part of creativity) or having any other positive trait just doesn't guarantee that you will also be a good person. You also have to have the right values and motivations to use your intellectual skills to positive ends. So while art is great, if creativity and self-entitlement are that closely linked then art may actually come at the cost of having members of society among us who think they're above the ultra-bendable rules, and who could probably actually get away with at least subtle forms of wrongdoing. Not great news.

Thankfully, you don't have to be born this way — creative but unethical — to enjoy what creativity can bring to a human life. Plenty of minor creativity interventions, like working in a different place or at a different time of day, can boost creativity temporarily without requiring major shifts in your personality or values. And keep in mind that the root of the immorality problem in creative types comes from that inflated sense of uniqueness. If you understand creativity as a widely dispersed, learnable, and renewable resource, you can avoid falling into the trap of thinking you're some exception to normal rules just because you're a little artsier than the average bear.

Image: sergeytay/Fotolia, Giphy