New research suggests that childhood experiences can be a statistical predictor of malevolent creativity and that Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism — the so-called “Dark Triad” of personality traits — play an important role in this relationship. The findings have been published in Frontiers in Psychology.
Creative individuals are valued for their ability to generate novel and effective ideas, and numerous studies have investigated the psychological correlates and antecedents of creativity. But most studies have focused on the positive uses of creativity. Much less is known about the malicious use of creativity.
“The concept of ‘malevolent creativity’ itself is counterintuitive, and has attracted a lot of attention in the field of creativity research,” said study author Qingjin Wang, a postgraduate student at Tianjin Normal University. “I have also heard some appalling news of malicious harm done to others. These events always trace back to the personality and childhood experiences of the criminals, which also gave me some inspiration for the present research.”
In the study, 991 Chinese undergraduate students completed assessments of childhood neglect, dark personality traits, and malevolent creativity.
The researchers found that higher levels of childhood neglect were associated with more malevolently creativity behaviors in adulthood. In other words, participants who reported experiencing more neglect in childhood were more likely to think about ways to take revenge on others, fabricate lies to simplify a situation, and pull pranks.
“The present finding underlines that the relationship between the family environment and individual creativity development is complex. While beneficial family environments and growing experiences promote the development of benevolent creativity, harmful ones not simply damage its development but may facilitate the development of malevolent creativity,” the researchers said.
In addition, the Dark Triad traits were found to partially mediate this relationship. Childhood neglect was associated with Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism, which in turn were related to greater levels of malevolent creativity.
“Those who were neglected or received less attention as children predispose them to seek immediate rewards and develop ruthless and hostile personalities, reflecting a faster life strategy; a fast life strategy subsequently leads to more maladaptive behaviors such as exploitation and retaliation,” the authors of the study explained.
“On the one hand, we want to examine the empirical reasons for malevolent creativity from the perspective of psychological science. If these factors hold up, the concept of malevolent creativity could be understood from a richer perspective. On the other hand, people can also pay attention to these factors and be aware of and alert to their own malevolent tendencies,” Wang told PsyPost.
But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.
“The research was a cross-sectional study, so we cannot draw a causal relationship between those factors,” Wang noted. “We hope that future longitudinal or experimental designs will provide a step toward understanding that.”
The study, “The Relationship Between Childhood Neglect and Malevolent Creativity: The Mediating Effect of the Dark Triad Personality“, was authored by Xuji Jia, Qingjin Wang, and Lin Lin.