Myths About Creativity: Sex, Drugs, and Time of Day


What’s fact (and fiction) about creativity? (Photo: Thinkstock)

We’re at our most creative in the mornings.

Drugs make us more creative.

Creative people have more sex.

Everyone seems to have his or her own theory about the nature of creativity. It’s easy to see why this is such an oft-studied topic: it’s baffling that we humans live in a world where our very survival depends on such practical concerns as farming, hunting, reproducing, and avoiding animals that want to eat us — and yet we still feel the need to wile away precious time knitting, drawing, carving, sculpting, molding, any other forms of creative expression. Psychologists have spent a lot of time trying to figure out why we feel the need to create, and how this drive affects our lives.

Related: Happiness is a Needle and Thread Away: New Data on the Mental Health Benefits of Knitting

“The brain is a complex organ,” says Dr. Katie Carey Levisay, a clinical neuropsychologist and founder of Funny Moms (her husband, John Levisay, is the CEO of, who’s researched the psychological effects of creativity. “For [psychologists], we’re always looking for ways of reducing depression and anxiety.”

Here’s what science has to say about popular conceptions, and misconceptions, about creativity.

What time of day are we most creative?


Whether you’re a morning or a night person may affect your creativity — but not in the way you might think. (Photo: Thinkstock)

When you say, “I’m no good in the morning,” the exact opposite may be true, at least when it comes to creativity. A Michigan State study cited in The Washington Post yielded a surprising conclusion: “morning people” were more creative at night while night owls were found to be more creative in the morning. The study’s authors found that when their study’s test subjects were at their “optimal” time of day, their increased focus led them to fixate on one thing, a mindset that might seem beneficial but is in fact counterproductive when you’re trying to solve creative problems. In contrast, people at their non-peak times were found to be less prone to concentrating on one specific thing, thus freeing up their brains to think in a more original fashion. So if your task requires concentration and focus — like, say, needlepoint or brain surgery — yes, it is better to be in your preferred “day zone.” But if you need to think creatively and let your mind explore lots of different variables, it may be best to shake up your day.

Related: 'Guy Crafts' and 'Girl Crafts'? Truth About Maker Stereotypes

Being creative helps take your mind of your problems


It’s hard to dwell on your problems when you’re engaged in a diverting activity. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Talk to people who knit and they’ll often say how much it helps them take their minds off their problems. That’s not an old knitters’ tale; many psychologists say that’s 100% true. They cite the concept of flow: the mental state where you’re so fully engaged in an activity or creative endeavor, everything tends to shrink into the background — including sadness and anxiety.  “When you get lost in something we’re doing, you’re focused,” says Dr. Levisay. “You’re not zoning out; you just don’t have time to worry about things in the past or the future.” She continues: “Creative activities that speak to people — be it painting or photography or sewing or knitting or quilting — get people into this state. And there are tremendous implications for anxiety reduction and stress reduction and stress-related disease.”

Creative people are crazy: true or false?


Why does it seem that the most… unique people are the most creative? (Photo: Thinkstock)

From Beethoven to Kanye West, creative people have always had the reputation of being a little… off in the mental department. There might be some psychological validity to that: a pair of English psychologists surveyed a group of artists, a group of schizophrenics, and a group from the general population. According to The Guardian, “They found the artists and schizophrenics scored equally high on ‘unusual cognition’, a trait which gives rise to a greater tendency to feel in between reality and a dream state, or to feel overwhelmed by one’s own thoughts.” The difference, though, is that artists tended not to feel as socially and emotionally bleak as the schizophrenics. The study’s authors suggested the genes that might lead to schizophrenia may also be carried by super-creative people.

Creative people hook up more


Romance and art seem to go together. (Photo: Thinkstock)

From musicians to actors, what about the notion that creative people get more lovin’?  Is that really true? The answer appears to be, “yes.” In the exact same survey cited above, the English researchers also asked the three groups about their sex lives. They found artists had twice as many sex partners as the members of the general population. Also, according to The Guardian, “the number of partners increased with the seriousness with which they pursued their art.”

Are chemically enhanced people more creative?


How many great works of art were created with the help of chemical enhancements? (Photo: Thinkstock)

Steve Jobs often attributed his creativity, in part, to his use of LSD. And he’s not the first super-creative person who’s admitted to chemically enhanced creativity. One study examined the effects of an even more  popular drug, alcohol, on creativity. In the study cited in Forbes, subjects drank their way to a blood alcohol content of .075 — just below the legal driving limit. The intoxicated subjects ended up doing better on creativity exercises than the sober subjects because, according to one of the co-authors, “different tasks and situations are best served by varying states of consciousness and cognition.”

Dr. Levisay says that could be because of the effect certain substances have on the frontal lobe of the brain, which she says censors our actions, regulates our impulse control, judges risk and generally keeps us in line. “When they’re under the influences of substances that quiet the frontal lobe of the brain — like alcohol, for example — a lot of people report more creativity in that state of mind,” says Dr. Levisay. “If you’re feeling less inhibited, people will take more risks.”

As for Jobs’ LSD example, a group of British scientists are trying to crowdfund their own studies on the effects of LSD on the brain and creativity. People certainly appear curious about the topic; the researchers already have raised almost twice their initial fundraising goal.

Creativity helps you age better


Being creative allows you to rock on for years! (Photo: Thinkstock)

There’s a reason you see so many knitting programs for the elderly: such creative tasks have been shown to be immeasurably valuable to staving off some of the worst parts of aging. “There’s exciting research showing a reduction in cognitive impairments and even dementia in people who use their brains [creatively],” says Dr. Levisay. So while we still may not know exactly why we get so mentally jazzed by making stuff, it’s clear that, whatever the reason, it’s something that benefits all of us.

“Even if we don’t understand technically what creativity may be,” says Dr. Levisay,” “there’s a lot of exciting literature showing that when we’re engaging in it, it’s going to have some really positive effects.”

WATCH: Katie Brown and her friend Jess make a pretty necklace form beads and fabric.

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