Research shows creative students sensed global catastrophe coming, increased anxiety
LAWRENCE – New research from the University of Kansas shows that some of the most creative teens may have felt a global crisis was looming as early as 2014.
While the students did not predict a pandemic and the resulting economic and social distress, KU researchers working with Creative Students noticed much higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidality among the normal population. well adjusted. When asked about their negative feelings, the students highlighted a sense of imminent worry about a global environmental catastrophe, the erosion of democracy and other international ills.
“Despite the common belief in the ‘mad genius’ myth, most scientific studies of creatives have found them surprisingly well suited. Even in adolescence, supposedly a time of struggle, decades of research established that most of them were happily engaged in their art, music, writing, invention or social projects, ”said Barbara Kerr, professor emeritus of Williamson Family in Counseling Psychology at KU’s School of Education and Humanities.
Hundreds of young creatives who participated in KU’s Optimal States Exploration Counseling Lab, known as Project CLEOS, matched this psychological profile from 2006 to 2013. But in 2014, alarming signs of depression and anxiety increased. The initiation of suicide prevention protocols for students has increased from one or two per year to 25% of students assessed in the lab.
“Nothing had changed in the student population we served or in the nomination process. The students themselves had somehow changed, ”Kerr said.
To determine why creative students suddenly felt more depressed and anxious, Kerr, principal investigator of the CLEOS project, and graduate students Maxwell Birdnow, JD Wright and Sara Fiene undertook a series of studies. They recently published their results in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
The first study compared student scores on interests, personality, and accomplishments. The results showed that the students remained interested in their creative pursuits, but their personalities had changed. From 2014 to 2019, they scored higher on neuroticism, or the tendency to feel anxious, depressed, vulnerable, or out of emotional control. At the same time, they scored significantly lower on extraversion or the tendency to be warm, positive, gregarious, and leadership-oriented.
“The students were also very conscientious – anxious to work hard, to be successful and to use good judgment. To their advisers, they seemed sad, overwhelmed and thoughtful, ”Kerr said.
For the second study, Birdnow interviewed over 100 students in small focus groups to find out why they thought their peer group felt depressed and anxious. The results indicated two main themes: Meeting the expectations of others and realizing global issues such as environmental destruction and the collapse of democracy.
“The growing personal struggles to meet expectations and fears about the future clashed with their conscience,” Birdnow said. “They had a sense of dread, a strong need to do something about it, and the awareness that as teenagers they had little power to do it.”
Following the studies, the COVID-19 pandemic has struck. The research team remarked that it was as if the students saw it coming. Although they did not specifically predict a pandemic, the students felt that a global catastrophe was inevitable. This sense of dread inspired a third study, in which Birdnow followed up with 19 previous CLEOS participants to see how the pandemic had affected their mental health and creativity.
Throughout 2020, headlines have featured people suffering from mental health issues, depression, lost creativity, loneliness, financial hardship and other negative outcomes from the pandemic and resulting isolation. . The highly creative students widely said they felt their sanity had suffered, but many said they were able to hide their emotional struggles as well. The most encouraging sign, the research team said, was that most remained engaged in their creative endeavors, despite their emotional struggles and isolation.
“One has developed a very popular TikTok profile, others have written or composed music. Some have started community services; some ongoing scientific work, ”Kerr said. “Somehow, at the worst of times, creative students have used their imaginations to engage, entertain, and inspire.”
While it’s no surprise that creative students suffered emotionally during the pandemic like so many others, the fact that such feelings predated the pandemic warrants further discussion and research, the authors said. The openness of the population to experience and the high level of knowledge helped them see the possibility of global environmental and social crises and their inability to resolve or prevent them likely led to their negative emotional states, wrote Researchers. However, the persistence of creativity shown in the third study reinforces the value of creative endeavors and shows that researchers should continue to focus on how the adolescent personality is influenced by internal expectations, external pressures and global events.
“Creatively gifted teens and young adults are much more perceptive than we often think. Amid their own internal and external pressures to achieve greatness, they are keenly aware of the unpredictable inequity in the world, ”Kerr said. “While this combination of awareness and pressure can lead to greater difficulties in maintaining sanity, creative experiences can provide comfort, meaning, and predictability in an otherwise chaotic world.”
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