New research published in the Journal of Creative Behavior investigated the relationship between depressive symptoms and malevolent creativity. The findings indicate that when individuals experience depressive symptoms, they are more likely to use their creativity to hurt others. The study provides evidence that having a depressed mood is linked to negative social cognition.
Creativity can be defined as the capacity to produce new and valuable ideas, and research has found the endeavor beneficial. Creativity is connected to various positive mental health outcomes, academic achievement, and career advancement. For this reason, creativity is not often considered through the lens of its potential adverse outcomes.
But creativity can be used for evil, like when individuals bully or manipulate others. Corinna Perchtold-Stefan and her colleagues sought to explore the potential origin or consequences of what is known as malevolent creativity.
Malevolent creativity is considered to be creative behaviors intended to hurt others or violate social norms. For example, cyberbullying, trolling, and revenge fantasies are considered acts of malevolent creativity.
Previous research has found that individuals with depression may be more likely to engage in acts of malevolent creativity. Perchtold-Stefan and team were curious if subclinical depression symptoms could also be linked to malevolent creativity. Understanding the relationship between depressive symptoms and malevolent creativity may result in therapeutic interventions that could have positive consequences for individuals and society.
In order to investigate the relationship between subclinical depressive symptoms (i.e., mild levels of depression) and malevolent creativity, the research team used a combination of self-report questionnaires and an assessment of malevolent creativity. The team also analyzed how different subdimensions of depression (cognitive, emotional, and motivational symptoms) may result in different levels of malevolent creativity. Data was collected from 259 participants between 2018-2020.
The researchers found a positive relationship between subclinical depression and malevolent creativity. The higher the score on the measure of depression, the more malevolent creativity the person engaged in. Additionally, they found that for both men and women, malevolent creativity was related to cognitive and motivational subdimensions of depression. The emotional subdimension of depression was found only to be a factor for increased malevolent creativity for women.
The research team acknowledged some limitations of their work. The study design utilized self-report measures, and consequently, participants may have underreported or overreported their symptoms. In addition, the research did not examine other factors that may impact creative behavior, like personality traits or other environmental factors.
It is also unclear why depressive symptoms are positively related to malevolent creativity.
One explanation is that people who are already feeling depressed are more likely to engage in malevolent creativity because of factors like social isolation, reduced social support, and increased impulsivity and hostility. Another possible explanation is that engaging in malevolent creativity may lead to the development of depressive symptoms, as revenge fantasies and vengeful acts can perpetuate negative thought patterns and emotions.
The researchers posited that these explanations suggest a circular relationship between malevolent creativity and depression, where one can contribute to the other.
The findings suggest that there may be a link between certain mental health conditions and the use of creative behaviors for harmful purposes. This is consistent with previous research showing that individuals with certain personality traits (such as narcissism or psychopathy) may be more likely to engage in malevolent forms of creativity. The study’s focus on subclinical depressive symptoms is particularly important, as it suggests that even mild levels of depression may impact creative behavior.
“Our findings meaningfully show that mood impairments as experienced by the general population may promote a certain impulsive, unregulated, and ruminative mindset that stimulates malevolent creativity under provocative circumstances,” Perchtold-Stefan and her colleagues concluded. “By implication, depressive affect may not only be maladaptive in that in facilitates internalized negative self-attributions, but also because it fosters externalizing creative aggression against others.”
The study, “Depressive symptoms are positively linked to malevolent creativity: A novel perspective on the maladaptive nature of revenge ideation,” was authored by Corinna Perchtold-Stefan, Christian Rominger, and Andreas Fink.