The relation between personality traits and creativity has been a topic of interest for a long time. People like Ernest Hemingway or Vincent Van Gogh give us an idea about this hypothesis. Yet even adding several examples to these, a realistic image of any correlation is far away. Does it need a great deal of lunacy to be genial? Or maybe, let’s say, more normal people are inclined to creation.
The creation is expressed in many ways. Music, writing and fine arts are some of them. How about laughing? Making people laugh is quite a challenge and it takes a lot of talent to accomplish this and, sometimes, a small dose of lunacy. We all can see that comedians are at least different from the others. What news can this study bring us? Maybe we can understand how they produce their funny sketches and how are they able to deliver them to us in the funniest way.
These people, the comedians, were the subject of a study carried out at University of Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology. For the purpose of the study, a significant number of comedians were recruited alongside other people who act in front of an audience (actors) and a control group of individuals with non-creative professions. The subjects completed a questionnaire designed to measure psychotic traits in healthy individuals. The study revealed that the comedians have several psychotic treats. They scored high especially on introverted anhedonia and extraverted impulsiveness. What are the meanings of these terms and how are they related with comic performance?
Have you ever wondered how some comedians totally refrain from laughing while everybody from audience is laughing? Do they possess such self-control? The truth may as well be that they perceive their jokes differently and refraining from laughing comes naturally. And this is the very thing that boosts the audience even more: the seriousness of the comedian while telling jokes. This is the point: to make others laugh. What would be the point if the only one who’s laughing is the comedian? They also seem to be undistracted by the general laugh from audience. This is what the anhedonia is: a deficit in the ability to experience pleasure when everybody else does. That means that they are completely free of emotions, the process is at a lower intensity and that’s why they can remain serious with little effort.
The other facet is impulsiveness, which means acting with just a little consideration of the consequences. Impulsiveness can lead to undesirable and also to desirable consequences. When these actions lead to positive outcomes, impulsiveness can be regarded as spontaneity, boldness, courageousness, or unconventionality. These are exactly what we expect from a comic performance. Stand-up comedians frequently come up with new gags as a response to various situations, such as the overall audience reaction and particular individuals from audience who become part of the show. Mimics and gestures are also a result of impulsiveness. The jokes are much funnier when comic gestures and mimics accompany them.
Although comedians were maybe the last category of creative people to be included into psychological study, the results demonstrate one more time the link between creativity and unusual personalities. The comedy art requires a little unconventionality. It requires also an out-of-the-box thinking, courage and spontaneity. Without these traits the comedic art would be much different.
What would happen if we all had the same type of personality and we were free of any psychotic treats? Would the art have the same meaning or any meaning at all?