Three More Creativity Myths to Challenge

A cartoon-style orange dragon standing in front of a blank piece of paper on an artist's easel. The orange dragon has red scales on his spine and a yellow belly and under his wings. He holds an artist's palate and a brush dripping blue paint.

We believe we are a modern people with modern sensibilities. Therefore, we don’t believe in myths. This is partially true. The larger percentage of us don’t believe the myths about the Greek or Roman gods. We understand myths are plausible, but may not be true stories. They are stories of “historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.” We study these myths as imagined stories retold to preserve memories. Alas, though we are modern people, we believe in myths. Modern myths are popular beliefs or traditions that have grown up around something or someone.” Creativity is a modern topic full of myths. And it’s a big topic partially covered by the post, “Challenge These Nine Myths and Reclaim Your Creativity”. Today, let’s challenge three more creativity myths and reclaim the truth about creativity.

Myth #1

Mental health disorders usually accompany exceptional creativity.

There are many sources that tell of mental disorders suffered by creatives. Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), Judy Garland (1922-1969), and Jaco Pastorius (1951-1987) are some of the most well known. There are at several factors one must consider when reading their stories.

1. Many of these “diagnoses” came after their deaths. Diagnoses made by studying their journals, family history, relationships, and public records. Often, those diagnoses were based on loose and inconsistent criteria. We simply cannot verify these diagnoses. 

2. These individuals had unhealthy relationships and lifestyles. Lifestyles that may have contributed to their mental health or complicated other medical issues. 

3. These famous creatives had highly dramatic lives. This alone means they had a lot more written about them, which led to more speculation about their mental health.

4. They represent a small percentage of all creatives who have lived.

5. No study has shown any gene for creativity, nor a genetic link between creativity and mental disorders. 

Myth #2:

People get more creative ideas under the influence of alcohol or marijuana.

photo of a blank piece of paper with crumpled balls of paper in the left upper corner, a glass of whiskey in the upper right corner, and colored highlighters and colored pens in the lower corners.

There is no scientific evidence that either alcohol or pot enhances creativity. Under the influence of either, you can believe that you’re more creative and you may be more expressive of your ideas. However, studies suggest that your creative performance will not improve when under the influence. And the more you use of either substance, the less positive the effects. 

Myth # 3

One is most creative when there is total freedom in one’s actions.

  • This myth assumes we must overcome mental barriers like directions, advice, constraints, and criticism to be our most creative. 
  • reported that several researchers have found the opposite to be true. The used computer generated ad ideas as a threshold. Then they compared ad ideas generated by humans with total freedom to those generated by humans who were told to use a template to generate ads. Independent judges rated the study generated ads based on originality and creativity. Humans who created the template-based ads achieved the highest ratings. Computer generated ads came next. Ads from humans who had “total freedom” to create rated lower than the computer generated ads. 

Note: If you have or suspect you have a mental health or substance abuse issue,(in the US) call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. Not in the US? Visit for a list of international helplines.

Where Do Creativity Myths Come From?

How, why, and where myths begin are mostly unstudied and unknown. Often, myths seem to originate from popular anecdotes about famous creatives. Many assume myths spring from the human need to understand and explain phenomenon we don’t understand. 

A study reported on Science Direct surveyed 1261 adults from six countries in three continents. It found there were no substantial differences in reactions to creativity myths between countries. Neither age nor gender held any statistical significance for belief in creativity myths. However, people with fewer years of education and relying on popular sources like TV, social media, and friends believed more of these myths. Individuals who believed in the myths described themselves with a lower creative self-identity. They also underestimated the importance of creative control and expertise. Please read the report for all the details and statistics. Also, remember that these results are from a relatively small online survey, so may not be repeatable.

Much More Information Needed

Studying creativity is difficult. First, scientists must create a universal definition of creativity. Then they must be able to measure creativity. They must be able to conduct hundreds or thousands of studies with consistent definitions and measurements. Finally, other scientists must be able to repeat the studies with different creatives and get the same results. 

It seems as if getting scientific data will be next to impossible, doesn’t it? 

So how do we decide what is myth, and what is reality? My suggestion: challenge assumptions, find reputable source materials, and consider all the variables.

How do you decide? Are there myths you’d like me to investigate? 


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  1. Very thought-provoking. Excellent points about making judgments about famous creative people and applying to everyone. Happy lives are “boring”.

    1. I’m glad you found this post thought-provoking. Yes, unfortunately happy lives are boring from the “outside” and don’t make as good of a “news” story as the ones of drama and tragedy. Thanks for reading, Terry!

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