How to Know You Belong in Hollywood: Creative Personalities Really are More Complex

Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman offers some good news for Hollywood Creatives who feel as if you have multiple personality disorder–YOU DO! Well, sort of.

Drawing upon the research of Claremont Graduate University professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Kaufman reports in the Huffington Post that “Creativity researchers… have long-ago accepted the fact that creative people are complex. Almost by definition, creativity is complex. Creative thinking is influenced by many traits, behaviors, and sociocultural factors that come together in one person. It would be surprising if all of these factors didn’t sometimes, or even most of the time, appear to contradict one another.”

The Creative Personality

Kaufman points to the Csikszentmihalyi’s Psychology Today article entitled “The Creative Personality” to demonstrate how “creative people show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated.” Csikszentmihalyi notes:

I have devoted 30 years of research to how creative people live and work, to make more understandable the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an ‘individual,’ each of them is a ‘multitude.’

Kaufman is most fascinated by three of Csikszentmihalyi’s 10 complex personality traits of creative people. (I’ve added a bit more from Csikszentmihalyi than Kaufman did.)

1) Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm… This does not mean that creative people are hyperactive, always “on.” In fact, they rest often and sleep a lot. The important thing is that they control their energy; it’s not ruled by the calendar, the dock, an external schedule. When necessary, they can focus it like a laser beam; when not, creative types immediately recharge their batteries. They consider the rhythm of activity followed by idleness or reflection very important for the success of their work.

2) Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. We’re usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. In fact, in psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliability measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.

3) Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment. Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment… Deep interest and involvement in obscure subjects often goes unrewarded, or even brings on ridicule. Divergent thinking is often perceived as deviant by the majority, and so the creative person may feel isolated and misunderstood. Yet when a person is working in the area of his of her expertise, worries and cares fall away, replaced by a sense of bliss.

Csikszentmihalyi devoted much of his life to helping creatives learn to achieve this state of bliss that he calls “flow.” The state of “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”[1]


Kaufman notes that these three “seeming contradictions — energy/rest, extroversion/introversion, and openness/sensitivity — are not separate phenomena but are intimately related to one another and along with other traits form the core of the creative performer’s personality. All three are also linked to what Elaine Aron refers to as a highly sensitive personality (HSP). HSP’s make up 15-20 percent of the general population and tend to be more aware than others of subtleties, get more easily overwhelmed when things get too intense or there is too much sensory input, are easily affected by other’s moods, and are deeply creative and moved by arts and music. Some of the most creative people have very high levels of sensitivity.”

The evidence is clear: for a large majority of performers, in some of the most extroverted forms of performance, there is a great ability to juggle multiple faces and a need for downtime and reflection. New psychological research is showing just how intertwined and prevalent Openness to Experience, flow, abnormal perceptual experiences, and extroversion/introversion contradictions really are in creative people, especially artists.”

So… if you feel overwhelmingly complex and hyper sensitive, it could be a sign that you really do belong in Hollywood.



[1] Geirland, John (1996). “Go With The Flow”. Wired magazine, September, Issue 4.09.

Read Kaufman’s entire article.

Read Csikszentmihalyi’s entire article.

See also, Csikszentmihalyi’s life-changing works, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, and Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention


Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University. He researches and writes about the development of talent, intelligence, creativity, imagination, and personality. In addition to publishing scholarly articles, book chapters, and edited books, including The Psychology of Creative Writing (with James C. Kaufman) and The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence (with Robert J. Sternberg), he is also Associate Editor of The International Journal of Creativity and Problem Solving and the Sex, Art, and Pop Culture editor of The Evolutionary Review. Scott also writes a blog for Psychology Today entitled “Beautiful Minds“.  Find out more at


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