This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online
Creativity has many different aspects, but one way to measure it is through its links with risk-taking. After all, many of pieces of art and music now acknowledged as particularly creative took risks by flying in the face of the accepted norms of the day (for example Michelangelo’s nudes). So, on a scale of 1 (Extremely unlikely) to 7 (Extremely likely), how likely are you to take risks in each of the following areas of life:
Morals and ethics (e.g., having an affair)
Finance (e.g., making a large investment in a friend’s business)
Health and Safety (e.g., having unprotected sex)
Leisure (e.g., going skydiving or bungee jumping).
Social norms (e.g., publicly disagreeing with an authority figure on an important issue)
For each of the first four areas, you have to score at least 4/7 to count as more risk-taking than the average person (at least according to this study from Ontario, Canada), or 1/7 or 2/7 to count as less risk-taking. Perhaps surprisingly, however, risk taking in these domains does not seem to be linked to creativity.
The domain of life in which people are generally most willing to take risks is that of social norms (average score of 5.33), where you would have to score 6/7 or 7/7 to count as more risk-taking than average. If you did so, congratulations! You are, on average, likely to be more creative than the average person, at least according to a 2017 (Open Access) study from the University of Plymouth. But why? The authors suggest that the link between creativity and social-risk-taking exists because creative people have to be ready to present their work to individuals – or indeed to huge audiences – who may well criticize, laugh at, or – worse still – ignore them; that is they must be prepared to take huge social risks throughout the course of their working lives.
Blais, A. R., & Weber, E. U. (2006). A domain-specific risk-taking (DOSPERT) scale for adult populations. http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~baron/journal/06005/jdm06005.htm
Tyagi, V., Hanoch, Y., Hall, S. D., Runco, M., & Denham, S. L. (2017). The risky side of creativity: domain specific risk taking in creative individuals. Frontiers in Psychology, 8. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00145/full
A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Are You Smarter Than A Chimpanzee? by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £12.99) for £11.04 at bookshop.theguardian.com