The dark side of creativity: biological vulnerability and negative emotions lead to greater artistic creativity

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2008 Dec;34(12):1677-86. doi: 10.1177/0146167208323933. Epub 2008 Oct 1.


Historical and empirical data have linked artistic creativity to depression and other affective disorders. This study examined how vulnerability to experiencing negative affect, measured with biological products, and intense negative emotions influenced artistic creativity. The authors assessed participants' baseline levels of an adrenal steroid (dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate, or DHEAS), previously linked to depression, as a measure of affective vulnerability. They then manipulated emotional responses by randomly assigning participants to receive social rejection or social approval or to a nonsocial situation. Participants then completed artistic collages, which were later evaluated by artists. Results confirmed a person-by-situation interaction. Social rejection was associated with greater artistic creativity; however, the interaction between affective vulnerability (lower baseline DHEAS) and condition was significant, suggesting that situational triggers of negative affect were especially influential among those lower in DHEAS, which resulted in the most creative products. These data provide evidence of possible biological and social pathways to artistic creativity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Art*
  • Creativity*
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate / blood
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Mood Disorders / blood
  • Mood Disorders / psychology
  • Negativism
  • Rejection, Psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate