• Welcome to Autism Forums, a friendly forum to discuss Aspergers Syndrome, Autism, High Functioning Autism and related conditions.

    Your voice is missing! You will need to register to get access to the following site features:
    • Reply to discussions and create your own threads.
    • Our modern chat room. No add-ons or extensions required, just login and start chatting!
    • Private Member only forums for more serious discussions that you may wish to not have guests or search engines access to.
    • Your very own blog. Write about anything you like on your own individual blog.

    We hope to see you as a part of our community soon! Please also check us out @ https://www.twitter.com/aspiescentral

Overthinking and the link with creativity


Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Link between Overthinking and Neuroticism
By Rick Nauert PhD
~ 3 min read

Historians describe Isaac Newton as a brooder and a worrier, prone to dwelling on the scientific problems before him as well as his childhood sins.

In short, he was a classic neurotic.

A new paper in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, suggests a theory for why neurotic unhappiness and creativity go hand-in-hand.

In the opinion piece, psychologists argue that the part of the brain responsible for self-generated thought is highly active in neuroticism, which yields both of the trait’s positives (e.g., creativity) and negatives (e.g., misery).

People who score high on neuroticism in personality tests tend to have negative thoughts and feelings of all types, struggle to cope with dangerous jobs, and are more likely to experience psychiatric disorders within their lifetime.

The most popular explanation for why people are neurotic comes from British psychologist Jeffrey Gray, who proposed in the 1970s that such individuals have a heightened sensitivity to threat.

Gray came to his conclusion from both lab and human research. He observed the way in which antianxiety drugs helped to relax and liven up psychiatric patients, and how the medication helped to reduce the sensitivity of rodents to cues of punishment.

“Gray had a useful and logical theory, but the problem is that it doesn’t account for the full spectrum of neuroticism — it’s pretty difficult to explain neuroticism in terms of magnified threat perception because high scorers often feel unhappy in situations where there is no threat at all,” said lead author Dr. Adam Perkins, a personality researcher at King’s College London.

“The second problem is, there’s literature showing neuroticism scores are positively correlated with creativity; and so why should having a magnified view of threat objects make you good at coming up with new ideas?”

Perkins’ idea that overthinking can fuel neuroticism came after attending a lecture by coauthor and University of York psychologist Dr. Jonathan Smallwood, a leading expert on the neural basis of daydreaming.

Smallwood described his research that showed individuals at rest in an MRI scanner who spontaneously have particularly negative thoughts (a key marker of neuroticism) displayed greater activity in the regions of the medial prefrontal cortex that are associated with conscious perception of threat.

Perkins realized that individual differences in the activity of these brain circuits that govern self-generated thought could be an explanation for neuroticism.

Perkins and Smallwood collaborated with Dr. Dean Mobbs of the Columbia University Fear, Anxiety, and Biosocial Lab, an expert on the neural basis of defense in humans. Mobbs had previously shown that there is a switch from anxiety-related forebrain activity to panic-related midbrain activity as a threat stimulus moves closer.

Mobbs had also showed that this switch from anxiety to panic is controlled by circuits in the basolateral nuclei of the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center.

“It occurred to me,” Perkins said, “that if you happen to have a preponderance of negatively hued self-generated thoughts due to high levels of spontaneous activity in the parts of the medial prefrontal cortex that govern conscious perception of threat and you also have a tendency to switch to panic sooner than average people, due to possessing especially high reactivity in the basolateral nuclei of the amygdale, then that means you can experience intense negative emotions even when there’s no threat present.

“This could mean that for specific neural reasons, high scorers on neuroticism have a highly active imagination, which acts as a built-in threat generator.” A copious imagination naturally leads to high levels of creativity.

The psychiatric relevance of this theory was highlighted by psychiatrist and coauthor Danilo Arnone, who argued that this novel cognitive model might help to explain the ruminative thinking pattern seen in depression. The theory also complements the theory that the subgenual prefrontal cortex of the brain is involved in mood dysregulation.

The overthinking hypothesis also explains the positives of neuroticism. The creativity of Isaac Newton and other neurotics may simply be the result of their tendency to dwell on problems far longer than average people.

“I keep the subject constantly before me, and wait till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light,” Newton once said of his problem-solving method.

Said Perkins, “We’re still a long way off from fully explaining neuroticism, and we’re not offering all of the answers, but we hope that our new theory will help people make sense of their own experiences, and show that although being highly neurotic is by definition unpleasant, it also has creative benefits.

“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.”

Source: Cell Press/EurekAlert http://psychcentral.com/news/2015/08/31/link-between-overthinking-and-neuroticism/91614.html?li_source=LI&li_medium=most-popular&li_campaign=related-test
Holymoly I agree with A4H. This combined with the quote on your profile today just made several decades-old and extremely dark experiences which have turned slowly - petrified as it were - into personal icons of Sadness/anguish/ideas, go click into place with how I can paint my way through them.
This has absolutely gorgeous resonance with the Big Five personality dimensions--when Neuroticism and Conscientiousness are high scores, and Agreeableness is relatively low, that spells "aspie." I read Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are (see The Independent's review) before I knew I was aspie, and now I understand so much more about what the book was saying.

And, like kestrel, I find it freeing for my own artwork.

Test may be found here.

Nice pick, Mia, and a very nice job handling the intro--not many people think to say how long something takes to read.
Mia, excellent article, thank you.

Aspergirl4hire, I must be on the wrong site, this is Aspies Central, right - you've put a link to a test and no-ones done it!

Openness to Experience/Intellect
High scorers tend to be original, creative, curious, complex; Low scorers tend to be conventional, down to earth, narrow interests, uncreative.
You are relatively open to new experiences. (Your percentile: 65)
The other person is somewhat conventional. (Their percentile: 30)

High scorers tend to be reliable, well-organized, self-disciplined, careful; Low scorers tend to be disorganized, undependable, negligent.
You are very well-organized, and can be relied upon. (Your percentile: 89)
The other person is well-organized, and is generally reliable. (Their percentile: 79)

High scorers tend to be sociable, friendly, fun loving, talkative; Low scorers tend to be introverted, reserved, inhibited, quiet.
You probably enjoy spending quiet time alone. (Your percentile: 9)
The other person is extremely outgoing, social, and energetic. (Their percentile: 89)

High scorers tend to be good natured, sympathetic, forgiving, courteous; Low scorers tend to be critical, rude, harsh, callous.
You are good-natured, courteous, and supportive. (Your percentile: 87)
The other person finds it easy to criticize others. (Their percentile: 6)

High scorers tend to be nervous, high-strung, insecure, worrying; Low scorers tend to be calm, relaxed, secure, hardy.
You tend to become anxious or nervous. (Your percentile: 76)
The other person probably remains calm, even in tense situations. (Their percentile: 5)

I answered this in relation to my NT friend and it does seem fairly accurate.

Addressing Mia's post:

People who score high on neuroticism in personality tests tend to have negative thoughts and feelings of all types, struggle to cope with dangerous jobs, and are more likely to experience psychiatric disorders within their lifetime.

The most popular explanation for why people are neurotic comes from British psychologist Jeffrey Gray, who proposed in the 1970s that such individuals have a heightened sensitivity to threat.

The heightened sensitivity to threat rings true and I see a vicious circle developing between negative thoughts caused by threat sensitivity exacerbating negative thoughts.

If CBT/DBT is introduced to break the cycle, what then changes? Negative thoughts and threat sensitivity diminish, yet don't disappear entirely (in my experience).
I become less introverted, less neurotic - more able to socialise, less prone to worry and the positive reinforcement then encourages me further.. to a point.
It seems my Aspergers traits still impose limitations - I still can't understand people well enough to form relationships on any level to the same degree as my NT friend.

Aspergirl4hire's comment is interesting:

when Neuroticism and Conscientiousness are high scores, and Agreeableness is relatively low, that spells "aspie."

Me: Neurotic - yes, Concientious - yes, Agreeableness - yes.

So.. different Aspie traits perhaps.. lots of Aspies aren't open to new experiences at all, for instance and reading down the list of personality traits we could probably find an Aspie to fit either end of any of them - we have extroverted and unconcientious Aspies also.

Having worked on alleviating anxiety and its effects for some time now, I'm inclined to put considerable weight on experience - Nurture as the cause, or better - reinforcement.
By Nature I'm Aspie, that makes my approach to situations different to most.. that difference tends to alienate me from my peers, the lack of peer-supported learning exacerbating my Aspie traits; if I struggled with social cues way back at the beginning of my social development anyway, I sure will now the cues are more mature and subtle than they are with children.

So negative reinforcement - Skinners rats.

The harder socialising becomes with maturity, the more negative reinforcement I receive, the more anxious I become.. the harder socialising becomes due to anxiety..

Cut down the anxiety (with meds, DBT, whatever) - improve the chances of receiving positive reinforcement. That said, we don't currently live in a society that accepts the Aspies strengths or, even, their difference, so positive reinforcement will still be hard to come by.

I don't want to end on a bleak note.. suffice to say I'm still working at it!

New Threads

Top Bottom