According to a meta-analysis published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, creativity and unethicality are positively related. The researchers argue that some studies have failed to find this association due to the use of self-report measures in assessing unethical behavior.
There are several theoretical explanations for the positive relation between creativity and unethicality. The first is that “creative individuals tend to have a strong sense of entitlement when anticipating the high value of their future realization, which makes them more willing to cross the lines to reach their goal.” When engaging in a creative task, they foresee the benefits of their product, prompting the legitimization of unethical behaviors that can facilitate attaining this goal. “In other words, creative individuals tend to think that the end justifies the means,” the authors write.
The second argument is that creativity helps generate justifications for unethical deeds, in turn, increasing the likelihood of engaging in such behaviors. Creative individuals tend to be more skilled in justifying unethicality given their greater cognitive flexibility, which allows them to approach problems from numerous perspectives.
The third case for this positive correlation is that both creativity and unethicality “involve rule breaking and nonconformist processes.” From this perspective, these constructs are positively associated because they involve the same cognitive processes.
While numerous studies have reported a positive relation between creativity and unethicality, several have failed to find this association, casting doubt whether there is a relationship at all. A potential reason for these inconsistent findings could be the methods used to measure the constructs (i.e., via self-report vs. more objective measures).
In this work, Martin Storme and colleagues provide a meta-analytic estimate of the association between creativity and unethicality, and explore the methodology used in research as a moderator in explaining the heterogeneous findings in this literature.
The meta-analysis included a total 6,783 participants across 36 studies from 19 articles. Studies had to meet various criteria, including the manipulation/inclusion of a measure of creativity and unethicality, report enough statistical information to estimate an effect size, and involve adult participants (as opposed to children). Studies were coded for demographic information (e.g., number of participants, mean age) as well as various characteristics, such as the measures used to assess the main variables of interest. Measures were coded as other-reports and tests, or self-reports.
Storme and colleagues found a positive – albeit weak – association between creativity and unethicality. Analyses per measurement type of unethicality (i.e., objective measures vs. self-reports) suggested that the two constructs are positively associated only in studies that rely on objective measures of unethicality, but not studies that rely on self-reported unethical behaviors. Given objective measures are less biased by social desirability, observed correlations in studies which rely on such measures are more likely to provide an accurate estimate of the correlation between creativity and unethicality.
The method of measurement for creativity did not influence the relationship between the two constructs. Further, demographics (i.e., age, sex, socioeconomic), did not moderate the relationship between creativity and unethicality, suggesting this association is independent from demographic markers.
A limitation to this work is that the researchers did not examine the underlying processes that link creativity and unethicality, due to few available studies. Thus, more research is required to replicate seminal studies, in turn allowing future meta-analytic analyses of the psychological processes that connect these two constructs.
The meta-analysis, “Creativity and Unethicality: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”, was authored by Martin Storme, Pinar Celik, and Nils Myszkowski.