Creativity tied to sexual 'success'
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Artists may indeed have a more active love life than most of us -- and part of the reason may be their tendency toward a certain schizophrenia-linked personality trait, a study suggests.
In a survey of 425 British adults, researchers found that serious poets and visual artists generally had more sexual partners than those who were either not artistic or only dabbled in the arts.
Further analysis showed that one personality dimension -- a tendency toward "unusual" thoughts and perceptions -- was related to both creativity and sexual success.
That tendency is also seen in people with schizophrenia. And the findings, according to the study authors, may help explain why schizophrenia -- a mental disorder that often runs in families -- has not been extinguished from the gene pool.
Certain schizophrenia-related personality traits, they speculate, may confer benefits when they are not part of a mental illness. When they instead spur creativity, for example, they may offer a mating advantage, according to the researchers, led by Daniel Nettle, a psychologist at the University of Newcastle.
He and colleague Helen Keenoo report their findings in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.
Artists, from 18th Century poets to 21st Century musicians, have a well-earned reputation for leading busy romantic lives. But until now, there had never been a systematic comparison to document the phenomenon, Nettle told Reuters Health.
There have, though, been studies showing that creative types have higher-than-average rates of schizophrenia in their families, and that they themselves have a heightened tendency toward schizophrenia-like traits.
Schizophrenia itself has a strong genetic component, and since people with the disorder suffer poor overall health and have a low likelihood of having children, evolution should have lead to the disappearance of traits that predispose to schizophrenia.
But it has not. And some researchers have speculated that the link between schizophrenic traits and creativity -- a positive effect -- could be one reason.
In the new study, participants disclosed the number of sexual partners they'd had as adults and answered questions that gauge four schizophrenia-related personality dimensions.
One is the tendency toward "unusual experiences," defined as atypical thoughts or perceptions, or "magical thinking." This trait, the study found, was more common in serious artists, and people who scored high on the unusual-experiences front also tended to have more sexual partners.
The findings, according to Nettle, suggest that unusual thinking and perceptions, when operating in a healthy person, spur creativity and, in turn, may make a person more attractive.
"Successful creative types are signaling that they have unusual mental qualities that can command the attention of others, and as such, they are likely to bear or sire us children who can do the same," he explained.
Coupled with other traits, however - such as disorganized thoughts and concentration problems, and social withdrawal -- this feature may make a person vulnerable to schizophrenia. In this study, these other traits were either unrelated to creativity and sexual activity or tended to hinder both.
SOURCE: Proceedings of the Royal Society, November 2005.