The conversation turned to how creativity is affected by different modes of consciousness. BPS Fellow and panellist Chris Frith (UCL and University of Aarhus) said that it’s in their nonconscious processes that more creative people differ from the less creative. We’re prone to copy our past actions and to copy the behaviours of others, he said, but creative people are less constrained by primes and expectations.
There’s evidence that this freer form of nonconscious thought often manifests in people with schizophrenia and with autism – for example, they’re less susceptible to visual illusions such as the ‘hollow mask effect’, which are driven by visual expectations. There are claims that drugs can help induce this unconstrained mode of thought, and recent studies have also linked creative benefits to grogginess and mild intoxication for the same reason. In the same vein, Allan Snyder (University of Sydney) claims to have improved people’s creativity by using TMS to ‘knock-out’ their frontal lobes. Frith stressed that conscious processes are also required to communicate original ideas to others – what he called ‘effective creativity’. ‘The truly creative person is changing the consciousness of us all,’ he said. (The Psychologist, June 2012)
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are some one else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. (De Profundis, 1897)
Eighty-five participants were allocated to one of five conditions prior to looking at the art work. Some of them watched a 14-second scary video clip; others watched a 14-second happy video clip; some did 30 jumping jack exercises (designed to induce high physiological arousal); some did 15 jumping jacks (low arousal); whilst the remainder acted as controls and simply looked at the art without any preceding activity or intervention. The participants were questioned later and the different conditions had the desired effect – for example, the scary film left the participants in that condition feeling scared, and the happy film left others feeling equally happy.
The art work was four paintings by the Russian abstract artist El Lissitsky, each made up of simple geometric shapes and lines. Each painting was shown for thirty seconds and participants rated their experience of the art in terms of how inspiring it was, stimulating, dull, exciting, moving, boring, uninteresting, rousing/stirring, imposing, and forgetful. These factors were intended to tap into Edmund Burke’s conception of the sublime: “that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended … so entirely filled with its object.”
The main result is that participants who’d watched the scary video clip tended to rate the art as more sublime than did participants in all the other conditions. By contrast, ratings given by participants in the other conditions didn’t differ from each other. This suggests fear plays a special role in the sublime experience of art. Arousal may have played a lesser part – across conditions, participants’ arousal scores correlated with their sublime ratings of the art.
“TAT abbrev. Thematic Apperception Test, one of the best known projective tests, consisting of 31 pictures (originally 20) of emotionally charged social events and situations printed on cards, from which the test administrator selects 20 depending on the age and sex of the respondent, plus a blank card that is presented last. For each picture, the respondent is asked to make up a story that the picture could illustrate, describing the relationship between the people, what has happened to them, what their present thoughts and feelings are, and what the outcome will be. The assumption underlying the test is that respondents tend to project their own circumstances, experiences, and preoccupations into their stories.” A Dictionary of Psychology
“It was hypothesized that there were a number of scorable dimensions in these TAT records which should differentiate the experimentals who had applied for therapy from the controls who had not, as well as differentiate the records before and after therapy. Six of these variables were used in this study:
“1. The ability of the hero to solve his own problems versus dependence on others or magical forces to do this.
“2. The degree and quality of the creativity; well-developed fantasy and well-structured stories versus inability to form a story, sticking rigidly to the stimulus, or bizarre fantasy.
“3. The quality of the emotions attributed to the characters; pleasant versus unpleasant, and the degree of control of these affect states displayed by the characters.
“4. The kinds of interpersonal relations the subject depicts in his stories; constructive versus destructive interaction.
“5. The degree of comfort versus disturbance of the heroes and the appropriateness of these states to the situational context.
“6. The logic and mood tone of the story outcomes, happy, successful, or hopeful versus despair, failure, or indecision.
“These six were not treated independently, however. A single composite rating was made for each record based on a seven-point scale with the following notations for the scale positions:
“1. Severe disturbance bordering on psychotic or psychotic.
“2. Severe neurotic problems with disorganization.
“3. Acute neurotic problems but reality contact tenuously preserved.
“4. Discomfort from problems severe enough to require therapy but ability to carry one.
“5. Particular problems of some difficulty but social effectiveness maintained.
“6. Only mild problems in essentially well-functioning person.
“7. Well-integrated, happy person, socially effective.”
Rosalind Dymond, ‘Adjustment Changes over Therapy from Thematic Apperception Test Ratings’, page 110, chapter 8, Psychotherapy and Personality Change, edited by Carl Rogers & Rosalind Dymond, 1954.