Creative Personalities and Juggling Many Faces - Psych Week


By Dane Feldman

Photo courtesy of LuvataciousSkull

In a March 2011 Huffington Post article, Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D, discusses the “many faces of the performer.

Kaufman begins by mentioning the sharp contrasts in Michael Jackson’s personality. According to record producer Quincy Jones, who once said, “Michael was so shy, he’d sit down and sing behind the couch with his back to me while I sat with my hands over my eyes — and the lights off.”

While some found Jackson’s personality far too confusing to understand, psychologists who study creative complexity seem to say his erratic behavior was textbook.

In Juliet Bruce’s article, “The Creative Personality: Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality,” she claims that creative people are “highly sexual, yet often celibate.” Creative people are also both intelligent yet childish and naive, convergent and divergent, outgoing at times yet shy at others, self-confident but self-conscious and even a bit androgynous when it comes to gender stereotypes.

The similarities between Bruce’s description of the creative personality and what is known about Michael Jackson are uncanny.

Kaufman delves further into the topic when he addresses Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “The Creative Personality.” Csikszentmihalyi’s article states that, in addition to being introverted and extroverted, creative people are also energetic, but rest often. They are open yet sensitive. What this means is that creative personalities are so contradictory that creative people are ‘multitudes’ rather than individuals.

According to Kaufman, the contradictions that make up these multitudes are actually related and intertwined. It is, in part, because of these traits that creative people are in fact creative. Thus, these traits are the building blocks to forming a creative performer’s personality.

Psychologist Jennifer O. Grimes made similar findings when she interviewed musicians at Ozzfest and two other heavy metal festivals. Grimes reached out to Kaufman because she thought the two had similar interests regarding studying creative personalities.

Some of Grimes’ findings, according to Kaufman, are almost identical to the findings of Csikszentmihalyi and Bruce. Kaufman broke it down by category. When it comes to introversion and extroversion, Grimes found that the musicians enjoyed physical activities, but also enjoyed time alone. She also points out that musicians were quite able to “juggle” the many facets of their personalities; their personalities were different with some groups of friends than with others. It is perhaps because of this that musicians also reported feeling misunderstood. In the openness and sensitivity category, the same group of musicians also reported having a kind of heightened sensitivity to sound, light, and smells.

When asked if she thought pulling from a pool of artists within such an expressive genre of music would affect her findings, Grimes tells BTR, “I was actually hoping it would because a number of introversion researchers have been discussing the extroverted prototype of what they call the ‘screaming rock stars’ and I believe that using this as the embodiment of extroversion just perpetuating the plight of the misunderstood introvert.”

“So I wanted to make a misunderstood group better understood so maybe we could better explore the inter-relationships between introversion, seeming extroversion, and creativity,” she continues.

Yet, when psychologists Gil Greengross and Geoffrey Miller compared 40 stand-up comedians with 10 comedy writers and 400 college students, they found that the stand-up comedians claimed they were the least extroverted. According to Greengross and Miller, “the public perceives comedians as ostentatious and flashy… yet the results of this study suggest that the opposite is true.”

It seems stand-up comedians fall into the same category as heavy metal rockers and even world-famous performers like Michael Jackson.

Although Greengross tells BTR that comedians’ “on stage persona is different of that of their daily lives.” He isn’t sure if Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of multitudes can be applied to stand-up comedians as a whole but he says, “most people have inconsistencies in their personalities and that’s probably very normal.”

In that case, perhaps we should hope along with Jennifer O. Grimes that the stereotyping will soon come to an end.