The Link Between Risk-Seeking and Creativity

A psychologist explains why those equipped with a strong novelty-seeking gene tend to exhibit unconventional thinking—something that is clear as much in street criminals as scientists.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: Is there a link between sensation-seeking and creativity?

Marvin Zuckerman: There is, particularly for one type of sensation-seeking, we call it experience seeking, seeking sensation through the mind and the senses for one type of experience seeking. High sensation seekers are more prone to engage in divergent thinking. They don’t think in the conventional ways. They tend to think along unconventional lines. And this is a part of creativity. Creativity is the ability to think and do things in a way that haven’t been done before. Part of novelty-seeking, you might say. So, in a sense, they tend to be more creative if they have ability to be creative. When we think of creativity, we think of abilities. Many of the people on the streets who are drug dealers are very creative. They are creative criminally. They think of new ways of doing the things, you know. But we don’t call that creativity, even though it is creativity. So it depends on what – if you have the ability to pursue your divergent thinking along the lines that will result in the production of something whether it’s business, art or science. You have the ability plus the sensation-seeking that makes you more creative in what you’re doing.

Question: Is there a link between sensation-seeking and anxiety?

Marvin Zuckerman: Well actually there is no relationship between sensation-seeking and neuroticism or anxiety. You might think that’s funny because they seem to lack fear, but the kind of fear they lack is fear of physical harm. Neuroticism anxiety is based on a different kind of fear, mostly social fear. They don’t differ on that; they’re independent. That’s an independent trait, neuroticism. So you find that many high sensation seekers are high as are low and most are average in neuroticism. It’s that physical fear that they differ on. The high sensation seekers tend to; first of all, see things as less risky than lows. If you ask them, even something they’ve never tried before, if you say, “How risky is this?” The highs are going to say it’s riskier. Then when they do it, they demonstrate less fear arousal because fear arousal makes something unpleasant. Those who are not that high in sensation-seeking, they may try it under peer pressure or something and then they find that even though no harm comes to them they find it an unpleasant experience because of the fear that it arouses. So they’ll never do it again. They say, “Okay, I’ve done that, I’ll know not to go do it again.”

Whereas, the highs value that kind of whatever fear they felt just gave a little kick to the experience and made it even more pleasurable, oddly enough. Because it was fearful, they overcame the fear and they experienced pleasure.