Psychologists have presented a new theory, in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, which goes further in the study of the reasons why neurotic people tend to be more creative. The lead author of the study, Adam Perkins, sustains that the region of the brain responsible for self-generated thoughts, which leads to neuroticism, is active for both creativity and misery.

“There are costs and benefits to being a neurotic. What’s interesting is that you can be neurotic and have a creative benefit, but we still don’t understand it” said Perkins.


He also pointed out that the ability to channel neuroticism into creativity and problem solving comes to people who daydream a lot. In the study, Perkins found that people with negative daydreams showed heightened activity in the area where imagery tends to relate to threats. This area is called medial prefrontal cortex.

Even though results of the study do not necessarily prove that there is a bound between neuroticism, daydreaming and creativity, Perkins’ study revealed that neurotics, who think about problems long enough, devise a solution in their head even if there is no real threat. “Hopefully our theory will also stimulate new research as it provides us with a straightforward unifying framework to tie together the creative aspects of neuroticism with its emotional aspects” the author said.

The theory may explain why many of the greatest creative figures, considered anxious and brooding, were very influential and history changing. For instance, Sir Isaac Newton is regarded as a classic neurotic but he was gifted with one of the greatest minds that ever existed. Other examples like great wartime leader Winston Churchill and movie director Woody Allen are added up to that list.

Overthinking vs enjoyment

Neuroticism comes hand in hand with music too. In an interview published by, Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker, an Australian multi-instrumentalist and psychedelic rock musician, sometimes seem he is so deep into music he cannot enjoy it, making his obsessiveness and neurosis extend all the way down to his music. One time, he spent $30.000 into a cover concept he never used.

When the interviewer says to him that his last album, called Currents, looks like a break-up album, Parker dodges the description made about his work and gets a little to deep: “I wouldn’t say it’s a breakup record in the literal sense […] It’s more about this idea that you’re being pulled into another place that’s not better or worse. It’s just different. And you can’t control it. There are these currents within you.” 

A neurotic creative process

Tame Impala is practically a solo project given that Parker composed, recorded, produced and mixed the whole Currents album himself in a beachside house in Perth, Australia, where he was born and raised. He argues that recording, for him, is “further from a joke”. In that sense, Corban Goble, the interviewer, describes this neurotic figure as painfully unbalanced yet from the obsessive dynamic of the music production process he had undertaken, “he doesn’t look particularly well-rested, or well-nourished, or well-anything”, writes Goble.

This piece of art compared with his previous albums is a more heartfelt exercise. Goble explains that it incorporates the producer’s “inward-looking examinations, and the pain they may have caused him”. While making the album, Parker would rest his perfectionist soul remebering the advice words of his previous mixing partner,Dave Fridmann: “It doesn’t matter.”

As the study says, neuroticism is a dimension of personality that involves individual tendencies to experience negative feelings related to cognitive processes. This condition can lead to creativity skills and negative mental states even in environments that present no threat to the individual. As is the case of Kevin Parker, who has written four albums, and still is naturally forced into a state of unconformity with what he has done.

“I still think this album is completely unlistenable,” he says.

Source: Trends in Cognitive Sciences