Creativity Anxiety

Even among people who are very technically skilled at what they do, it is common to find individuals who recoil when they are asked to generate a new idea of their own. This apparent anxiety at the prospect of having to be creative may be associated with the colloquial refrain, “I’m not a creative person,” frequently used to turn aside requests for creative input or justify avoidance of creative pursuits. While this phrase is sometimes spoken lightheartedly, avoidance of creative endeavors has become an increasing impediment to advancement in the modern innovation economy. Creative abilities are highly prized across a wide range of fields and the ability to maximize one’s creative potential is only likely to become a more essential determinant of success in the innovation economy as creativity increasingly emerges as the human ability least achievable by artificial intelligence. Relatedly, fostering creative thinkers is a primary goal of educators from kindergarten through graduate school, and the ability to think creatively consistently predicts academic achievement. Thus, characteristics that keep people from realizing their creative potential are likely to have substantial impacts on achievement and opportunity.

Educationally-relevant anxieties, like math anxiety, have been shown to substantially impact specific forms of achievement and engagement. Somewhat surprisingly, however, the possibility of creativity-specific anxiety is unexplored. For instance, might an otherwise skilled student experience anxiety that specifically impacts their attitudes toward generating their own ideas? Our research has identified just such an anxiety that is specific to thinking creatively (Daker, Cortes, Lyons & Green, 2020). We first created and validated a new measure, the Creativity Anxiety Scale (CAS). Applying the CAS, we found that creativity anxiety uniquely predicted creative attitudes and achievement over and above anxiety about technical demands of the presented situations and, notably, over and above general trait anxiety. Perhaps surprisingly, anxiety ratings for situations that emphasized creativity were consistently higher than those that emphasized technical precision and attention to detail, and this effect that was especially pronounced among women.

Daker, Cortes, Lyons & Green (2020) JEP General

Intriguingly, evidence also indicated that creativity-specific anxiety was present across diverse content domains, including domains typically associated with creativity (e.g., visual arts, music) and those not typically considered creative (math, science). This suggests that any negative impacts of creativity anxiety could be wide-reaching in scope. Thus, the ultimate goal of research into Creativity Anxiety is to support interventions that bolster creative achievement and engagement.

Current projects in this area include:

  • Investigating the neural connectomics of creativity anxiety, and leveraging these data to predict real-world creative performance.

  • Testing the impacts of creativity anxiety on computer science and other STEM achievement.

  • Testing the impacts of creativity anxiety on career choice.

  • Developing interventions to alleviate creativity anxiety, some of which are modeled after effective interventions for math anxiety.