Party of 1: Unsociability linked to creativity in solitude-seeking people, research indicates
Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo recruited 295 university students with a median age of 19.31 years to take part in the study. They were asked to complete a self-report assessing their motivations for various actions and emotions, including self-withdrawal, aggression, anxiety, sensitivity, and creativity.
The researchers then used structural equation modeling to analyze the questionnaires. The models "revealed new evidence of specific and non-specific associations, including the first evidence of a potential benefit creativity associated with unsociability," the study states.
The type of social withdrawal associated with creativity is known as unsociability – a term which refers to people who withdraw due to non-fearful preferences for ‘alone-time’. “Although unsociable youth spend more time alone than with others, we know that they spend some time with peers. They are not antisocial. They don’t initiate interaction, but also don’t appear to turn down social invitations from peers," said Julie Bowker, study lead and an associate professor in SUNY Buffalo's psychology department, according to a press release on the university's website.
"Therefore, they may get just enough peer interaction so that when they are alone, they are able to enjoy that solitude. They’re able to think creatively and develop new ideas – like an artist in a studio or the academic in his or her office," she added. Unsociability has also not been linked to any negative outcomes.
Shyness and avoidance, meanwhile, were found to be negatively related to creativity. Bowker believes that "shy and avoidant individuals may be unable to use their solitude time happily and productively, maybe because they are distracted by their negative cognitions and fears."
According to Bowker, "motivation matters." She said "we have to understand why someone is withdrawing to understand the associated risks and benefits."
She went on to note that although unsociability has long been seen as harmless, the study's findings show that it could actually be positive. “Over the years, unsociability has been characterized as a relatively benign form of social withdrawal. But, with the new findings linking it to creativity, we think unsociability may be better characterized as a potentially beneficial form of social withdrawal.”
The study was published in the December issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences.