Instead of ignoring teenagers who don’t seem to be fitting in at school, what if they could be targeted for enrollment in art classes?

That’s the hope of researchers at De La Salle University in the Philippines, who have found a link between artistic ability and the dark personality traits associated with psychopaths. This could be the reason why actors and musicians have a reputation for being difficult to get along with — but it could also be a useful sign for kids who are socially isolated to be given a chance to express themselves in other ways.

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“A creative field might not just shape a person into a more arrogant or dishonest personality — it might be actively selecting them, not for the sake of having disagreeable traits but because such traits meaningfully co-vary with creativity itself,” explains co-author Adrianne John Galang.

The study was conducted in three stages:

• 503 participants filled out an online questionnaire designed to detect the traits and behaviors related to psychopathy
• The second part examined risk-taking and meanness among 250 college students
• Signs of anxiety among the most creative 93 students were examined while they were engaged in a gambling task.

“In two samples of young adults and college students, a certain trait associated with a lack of fear, being dominant and self-enhancement was able to predict who was more creative,” Galang says. “We also found that although creative people did not behave in a riskier fashion in the gambling task, they showed [fewer] nervous system reactions, which might mean they experienced less anxiety compared to other peers.”

Results have also shown that those who tended to be more creative had higher scores for psychopathic traits, particularly in terms of boldness. “I suspect that there are many creative people who don’t have traits associated with psychopathy, but it might also be true that there is a substantial number who might be sub-clinical psychopaths usefully contributing to society,” Galang adds.

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This is where the purpose of the study turns to young adults. Galang and her team hope their findings could lead to helping those on the cusp of sliding into an antisocial adulthood by setting them on a path to creativity. They also believe that the discovery could lead other people to investigate similar connections to piece together how biology and society conspire to tweak human personalities.

“We are about to begin some studies into the motivation side of this question, which is lacking in the current study,” Galang says. “Emotional disinhibition on its own can’t account for creativity, so we want to investigate what drives people’s desire to be creative as opposed to doing something else.” ​