Can creativity beat death? New study suggests creatives worry less about dying
Creative achievement can provide a buffer against being anxious about death, research from psychologists at the University of Kent shows.
Creative people, such as newly-announced Nobel Prize for Literature winner Bob Dylan, are often thought to be motivated by the desire to leave an enduring cultural legacy. Through their creative work, creatives such as Leonard Cohen and David Bowie continue to live on in our culture even after passing away.
Conversely, the destruction of ancient monuments and artefacts in Iraq in 2015 by members of Islamic State could be interpreted as a symbolic act aimed at achieving high negative impact on society through the destruction of a cultural legacy.
Now research, conducted by Rotem Perach, a postgraduate researcher at Kent's School of Psychology under the supervision of Dr Arnaud Wisman, shows that those with high levels of creative ambition and achievement are particularly likely to be more resilient to death concerns.
In what is thought to be the first empirical study of the anxiety-buffering functions of creativity among people for whom creativity constitutes a central part of their cultural worldview, the research analysed findings from a group of 108 students.
The students completed two questionnaires to gauge their level of creative achievement and creative ambition. Those with a record of creative achievement, coupled to high levels of creative ambition, were found to make less death associations in their thought processes after thinking about their own demise in comparison to those in the control condition.
In comparison, among those with low levels of creative ambition – whatever their record of creative achievement – thinking about their own mortality did not affect their levels of death-thought accessibility in comparison to controls.
The findings suggest that those who pursue creativity and produce significant creative contributions may benefit from existential security in the face of death.
The paper, entitled Can Creativity Beat Death? A Review and Evidence on the Existential Anxiety Buffering Functions of Creative Achievement, is published in the Journal of Creative Behavior. See: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jocb.171/full
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Notes to editor
Established in 1965, the University of Kent – the UK's European university – now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.
It has been ranked: 23rd in the Guardian University Guide 2016; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2016; and 22nd in the Complete University Guide 2015.
In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, Kent is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.
Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.
In the National Student Survey 2016, Kent achieved the fourth highest score for overall student satisfaction, out of all publicly funded, multi-faculty universities.
Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium (http://www.kent.ac.uk/about/partnerships/eastern-arc.html).
The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.
In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.