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The relationship between optimism, creativity and psychopathological symptoms in university students

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The relationship between optimism, creativity and psychopathological symptoms in university students

Abstract

Introduction. This study examines the protective effects of variables of dispositional optimism and creativity with respect to measurements of psychopathology or psychological distress. Method. A total of 113 university students from different degree programs participated in the research. Measures of creativity (CREA), optimism (LOT-R) and psychopathological symptoms (SCL-90) were administered during their course on public speaking. Correlational and regression analyses were carried out using optimism and creativity as predictors for psychopathological symptoms. In order to round out the analysis, ANOVAS were carried out between three levels of creativity, with groups fomed according to low, medium and high creativity. Results. Strong negative correlations, statistically significant, were found between dispositional optimism and psychopathological symptoms. The psychopathological symptoms measured by the SCL-90 were explained by the variable of dispositional optimism, primarily in its dimensions of depression and interpersonal difficulties. However, no significant correlational relationship was found between creativity and the measure of psychopathology. Differences in psychopathological symptoms, however, were found according to the three groups of creativity; participants with a medium level of creativity showed the least psychopatological symptoms. Discussion and Conclusions. In the light of the results of this study, the protective effect of optimism against psychopathology, as found in other studies, was confirmed, and we offer specific proposals to be applied in psychological well-being programs. Various possibilities are suggested to explain the relationship found between creativity and psychopathology.
The relationship between optimism, creativity and psychopathological symptoms in university students
Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 8(3), 1151-1178. 2010 (nº 22). ISSN: 1696-2095. - 1151 -
The relationship between optimism, creativity
and psychopathological symptoms in
university students
Óscar Sánchez1, Ramón Martín-Brufau 2,
Francisco Xavier Méndez 3, Francisco Javier Corbalán 4,
Rosa María Limiñana 5
Dept. of Personality, Assessment and Psychological Treatment,
Faculty of Psychology. University of Murcia
Spain
Correspondence: Óscar Sánchez Hernández. Facultad de Psicología. Campus Universitario de Espinardo (Mur-
cia). CP: 30100. Spain. E-mail: oscarsh@um.es
© Education & Psychology I+D+i and Editorial EOS (Spain)
Oscar Sánchez et al.
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Abstract
Introduction. This study examines the protective effects of variables of dispositional optim-
ism and creativity with respect to measurements of psychopathology or psychological dis-
tress.
Method. A total of 113 university students from different degree programs participated in the
research. Measures of creativity (CREA), optimism (LOT-R) and psychopathological symp-
toms (SCL-90) were administered during their course on public speaking. Correlational and
regression analyses were carried out using optimism and creativity as predictors for psychopa-
thological symptoms. In order to round out the analysis, ANOVAS were carried out between
three levels of creativity, with groups fomed according to low, medium and high creativity.
Results. Strong negative correlations, statistically significant, were found between disposi-
tional optimism and psychopathological symptoms. The psychopathological symptoms meas-
ured by the SCL-90 were explained by the variable of dispositional optimism, primarily in its
dimensions of depression and interpersonal difficulties. However, no significant correlational
relationship was found between creativity and the measure of psychopathology. Differences
in psychopathological symptoms, however, were found according to the three groups of crea-
tivity; participants with a medium level of creativity showed the least psychopatological
symptoms.
Discussion and Conclusions. In the light of the results of this study, the protective effect of
optimism against psychopathology, as found in other studies, was confirmed, and we offer
specific proposals to be applied in psychological well-being programs. Various possibilities
are suggested to explain the relationship found between creativity and psychopathology.
Keywords: Optimism, creativity, mental health, psychopathology
Received: 05/11/10 Initial Acceptance: 05/17/10 Final Acceptance: 07/30/10
The relationship between optimism, creativity and psychopathological symptoms in university students
Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 8(3), 1151-1178. 2010 (nº 22). ISSN: 1696-2095. - 1153 -
Resumen
Introducción. En este estudio se analiza el efecto protector de las variables de optimismo
disposicional y creatividad respecto a una medida de psicopatología o sufrimiento psicológi-
co.
Método. Un total de 113 estudiantes universitarios de un curso de promoción educativa parti-
ciparon en la investigación. Durante la realización de este curso se administraron medidas de
creatividad (CREA), optimismo (LOT-R) y síntomas psicopatológicos (SCL-90). Se efectua-
ron análisis correlacionales y de regresión utilizando el optimismo o la creatividad como va-
riables predictoras sobre los síntomas psicopatológicos. Para completar los análisis se efectua-
ron ANOVAS entre los niveles de creatividad divididos en tres grupos baja, media y alta crea-
tividad.
Resultados. Se encontraron fuertes correlaciones negativas y estadísticamente significativas
del optimismo disposicional respecto de los síntomas psicopatológicos. Los síntomas psicopa-
tológicos medidos a través del SCL-90 eran explicados por la variable optimismo disposicio-
nal, principalmente con respecto a las dimensiones de depresión y dificultades interpersona-
les. Sin embargo, no se encontraron correlaciones significativas entre la creatividad y la me-
dida de psicopatología. Se encontraron diferencias en síntomas psicopatológicos en función
de los tres grupos de creatividad, siendo los participantes con un nivel intermedio de creativi-
dad los que presentan menores sintomas psicopatológicos.
Discusión y Conclusiones. A la luz de los resultados de este estudio, se confirmó el efecto
protector del optimismo frente a la psicopatología encontrado en otros estudios y se proponen
propuestas concretas de aplicación en programas de promoción del bienestar psicológico. Se
barajan diversas propuestas para explicar la relación hallada entre la creatividad y la psicopa-
tología.
Palabras Clave: Optimismo, creatividad, salud mental, psicopatología
Recibido: 11/05/10 Aceptación Inicial: 17/05/10 Aceptación Definitiva: 30/07/10
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Introduction
In his book entitled The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, the famous humanist psy-
chologist, Abraham H. Maslow (1975), states the following: Common sense means living in
the world as it is today; but creative people are people who don’t want the world as it is today
but want to make another world (p. 93). Creativity requires getting out of the boxin order
to find ideas, problems or solutions that are normally not present, they are only real in the
mind of the one who is playing or inventing alternative realities for new problems and chal-
lenges that arise. Optimism, for its part, is able to see, to consider and to pursue realities that
are not necessarily happening at this moment: the person expects that things will improve, or
will continue to go well in the future, contributing actively to this alternative, positive reality,
by building it progressively with their actions, thoughts and feelings in the present moment.
Persistence and tenacity are needed in this effort, helping them to reach the goals they have
proposed (Carr, 2007; Carver & Scheier, 1998).
Both optimism and creativity can be factors that facilitate adapting to new contexts
characterized by rapid changes. On the other hand, although we know that optimism is a pro-
ducer of positive emotions (Vera, 2008), even in adverse situations, creativity could be cha-
racterized as a certain dissatisfaction produced by the nonconformity with what currently is,
triggering a search for alternative realities to the present one.
Promotion of mental health and prevention of psychological disorders have seen in-
creased research in recent years (Horowitz & Garber, 2006). Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi
(2000) indicate that the greatest progress in prevention comes out of a perspective that focuses
on systematic development of competencies.
Optimism and psychopathology
Avia and Vázquez (1998) indicate that optimism, besides being a requirement for sur-
vival, is an indispensable condition for a fully human life, one of the best weapons for adapt-
ing to one’s medium and for transforming it, a mechanism that allows people to overcome
misfortune, to build and to dream of the future. According to Vera (2008), there are two dif-
ferent, but not opposing, theoretical perspectives when it comes to understanding optimism:
The relationship between optimism, creativity and psychopathological symptoms in university students
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1. Explanatory style (Abramson, Seligman & Teasdale, 1978). The reformulated mod-
el of learned helplessness is based on attributional theory, and sustains that expectations about
future events are closely related with how past events are explained. Explanatory style is the
way that a person typically interprets his or her experiences. It involves three dimensions: a)
personalization, distinguishing whether the cause of the event lies in the person or in an ex-
ternal factor (internal or external attribution); b) permanence, referring to the degree to which
the cause is stable in time and tends to repeat itself (permanent or temporary attribution); per-
vasiveness, examining whether the cause affects other areas of life (global or specific attribu-
tion). The optimistic person tends to explain negative events through external, temporary and
specific attributions, while the pessimist produces internal, permanent, global attributions.
Conversely, positive events are explained in the opposite fashion.
The benefits of an optimistic explanatory style are numerous. It is associated with
lower rates of illness, depression and suicide, and with higher levels of academic and athletic
performance, professional adjustment and quality of family life (Gillham, 2000; Sánchez &
Méndez, 2009b; Seligman, 1998; Seligman, Reivich, Jaycox, & Gillham, 2005). Research
carried out in an educational context over a five-year period, with more than 500 children
participating in the Longitudinal Study of Childhood Depression, shows that optimistic expla-
nation cushions the harmful impact of adversity and protects against depression, while the
pessimistic style increases the risk (Nolen-Hoeksema, Girgus & Seligman, 1992; Seligman et
al., 1984).
Optimism is related to the ability to delay gratification and to renounce short-term
benefits in exchange for more valuable long-term objectives, probably because the person
considers these objectives to be reachable (Carr, 2007). Sánchez, Méndez and Garber (2009)
performed a study on the motivation of 87 adolescents to participate in a program to promote
psychological well-being within an educational context, and found that curiosity about posi-
tive change is related positively to an optimistic explanatory style and negatively with anxious
symptomatology in the participants, meaning that a more optimistic view facilitates curiosity
and motivation to introduce positive changes in life (learning healthy behaviors that increase
students’ physical and psychology well-being, setting and following a plan of action in order
to achieve personal goals, etc). It is also considered to be a protective factor against substance
use in stressful situations (Torres Jiménez, Robert, Tejero, Boget & Pérez de los Cobos,
2006).
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Within this conception of optimism as an explanatory style, we must highlight that the
authors do not limit ourselves to working with an explanatory model, via questionnaires for
measuring this construct, but we propose the Penn Resiliency Program (PRP), from the Uni-
versity of Pennsylvania (Gillham, Jaycox, Reivich, Seligman & Silver, 1990), for the purpose
of encouraging optimism in the participants, with the benefits that it entails. There are at least
14 related studies, using randomly assigned participant and control groups, carried out by the
creators of the PRP and by other research teams, and including the participation of over 2000
children and adolescents between the ages of 8 and 15 (Abela & Hankin, 2007). As a whole,
the results reveal that the program produces a lasting reduction in anxiety and depression
symptoms. Gillham, Hamilton, Freres, Patton and Gallop (2006) found that the PRP is pre-
ventive against mood disorders, anxiety disorders and adaptation disorders (combined), in a
two-year follow-up of children with high levels of symptomatology. It was also found that its
preventive effect against disruptive behavior was maintained 2-3 years after finishing the pro-
gram (Cutuli, 2004; Cutuli, Chaplin, Gillham, Reivich & Seligman, 2006).
López, Kasanzew and López (2007) worked with a sample of 60 patients with low and
medium psychopathology, assigning them randomly to a control group (classic cognitive psy-
chotherapy) and an experimental group (classic cognitive psychotherapy plus techniques to
encourage optimism). The achieved an optimization and strengthening of the effects of classic
cognitive psychotherapy in the first five sessions, increasing an optimistic perspective by us-
ing Seligman’s techniques for fostering optimism (Seligman, 2005) and decreasing the inten-
sity of patients’ psychopathological symptoms as measured by the SCL-90-R psychopatholo-
gy scale (Casullo, 2004). Results showed a significant decrease in variables such as somatiza-
tions, phobic anxiety and hostility in favor of the experimental group as compared to the con-
trol group. Therefore, this method to increase optimism seems to optimize cognitive psycho-
therapy as it diminishes the intensity of patients’ symptoms.
Sánchez and Méndez (2009a) performed a pilot study on a cognitive-behavioral pro-
gram inspired by the PRP, whose objective was to foster optimism in 25 primary education
students. They found that the experimental group significantly reduced depressive symptoma-
tology on the post-test, thus obtaining a medium-small effect, in line with research results in
this field.
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Within the educational context, we would emphasize the decisive role of parents,
teachers, coaches, and any other educational agent in general, in the formation of the child’s
or adolescent’s explanatory style. This influence comes through two channels: how these
agents explain what happens to them in their own lives, and more importantly, how they ex-
plain, through their comments, what is happening to their pupils. Thus they contribute deci-
sively to the development of optimism or pessimism in their students, with its subsequent
consequences for their physical and psychological health in all areas of their lives (Seligman,
2005).
2. Dispositional characteristic (Scheier & Carver, 1985). These authors define dispo-
sitional optimism as a stable, generalized expectation or belief that positive things occur in
life (Scheier & Carver, 1985, 1987), making optimism the tendency to expect that the future
will bring favorable results, while pessimism would correspond to an expectation that the fu-
ture will bring negative events (Avia & Vásquez, 1998; Otero et al., 1998). The theoretical
forerunner to this concept is the behavior self-regulation model by Carver and Scheier (1981).
According to this model, when difficulties arise, favorable expectations increase people’s ef-
forts to reach their objectives, and unfavorable expectations reduce these efforts, sometimes to
the point of entirely abandoning the task (Carver & Scheier, 1998).
The great interest sparked by dispositional optimism is due to its large predictive pow-
er, for both psychological wellbeing and physical health, not to mention coping strategies
used for overcoming different situations that occur in the course of life (Sanjuán & Magal-
lanes, 2006). Several studies have found that optimists experience fewer negative emotions,
such as negative moods or depressive symptomatology, anxiety or hostility when faced with
stressful situations (Sanjuán & Magallanes, 2006). It has been demonstrated that optimistic
subjects cope better with life’s problems, suffer less stress and therefore have less illnesses
(Ortiz, Ramos & Vera-Villarroel, 2003). Specifically in connection with coping strategies,
optimistic subjects are found to have more problem-focused coping strategies than do pessim-
ists, they assess stressful situations more positively, and seek for more social support. By con-
trast, pessimistic subjects tend to refuse, to give up and to not take on objectives, focusing on
negative feelings (Carver & Gaines, 1987; Scheier, Weintraub & Carver, 1986).
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Creativity and psychopathology
Traditionally, creativity has been related to psychopathology (Andreasen, 1996). In-
itially, Lombroso (1891) related more creative individuals with greater levels of psychopa-
thology. However, this position has become very controversial, to the point that we would say
there are two separate lines of research regarding psychopathology and creativity (Alonso,
2000) that have contributed proofs in favor of and against this hypothesis. There are those that
establish a positive relationship (Carlsson, 2002; Clapham, 2001) and those that establish a
negative relationship (Mikulincer, Kedem & Paz, 1990) between the two.
Several studies have shown that there is a relationship between creative capacity and
mental disorders, generally related to the schizophrenia spectrum: associative looseness,
broader attentional focus and the ability to connect new information unconventionally (Ri-
chards, 2001; Woody & Claridge, 1977). Data have been found that offer evidence for an as-
sociation between creativity and schizotypical traits, since they share similar cognitive and
emotional characteristics (Joscelyn et al., 2004). This is related to several aspects: that the
family members of schizophrenic patients present greater levels of creativity, that bipolar pa-
tients have a greater number of creative achievements (Claridge & Blakey, 2009) and that
greater levels of schizotypical personality traits are associated with a greater number of prob-
lem-solving strategies, although at the cost of taking longer to solve them (Stoneham &
Coughtrey, 2009). Some authors have proposed that schizotypical traits facilitate divergent
processing, while emotional alteration in the form of mania provides the necessary impetus
and mood for creative production (Nettle, 2002). Perhaps for this reason, there are data to
uphold that creativity is not only associated with psychopathology, but that a predominance of
positive emotions would benefit creativity (Lyubomirsky, King & Diener, 2005), perhaps in
relation to hypomanic states (Nettle, 2006).
This fact may come under what some authors have suggested as addiction to novelty
in persons with high creativity (Galang, 2010). According to these propositions, the most cre-
ative individuals would present high motivation for novelty, which could be (as the authors
suggest) a form of self-regulation in order to mitigate moods derived from low cortical activa-
tion, through a capacity for generating new ideas. This addiction to novelty should be related
at least in part to the fundamentals of addiction, according to which people with few D2 re-
ceptors would need higher levels of stimulation in order to feel the rewarding effects of usual
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activities (Volkow, Fowler, Wang, & Swanson, 2004). This proposition is backed by studies
that confirm that individuals who score high in divergent production present fewer D2 recep-
tors, which might shed light on the association that has been found between creativity and
psychopathology in the schizophrenia spectrum (De Manzano, Cervenka, Karabanov, Farde
& Ullèn, 2010).
Although creativity may present characteristic forms of information processing, what
seems to be accepted is that emotional alteration is not a prerequisite for creativity in the
sense of there being a causal relationship between them (Glover, Ronning & Reinolds, 1989).
Some promising findings underscore the importance of intelligence as a threshold favorable to
creativity. Other studies have not confirmed this proposition (Kim, 2005; Preckel, Holling &
Wiese, 2006). However, recent proposals underscore the importance of intelligence measured
through working memory as a capacity directly related to divergent production (Vandervert,
2007). Thus, one distinction between individuals with high creativity lies in being able to se-
lect the most plausible and most promising associations (Galang, 2010), something that indi-
viduals with schizophrenic symptomatology cannot correctly achieve, thereby giving rise to
overinclusion and unproductive ideations due to deficits in controlling cognitive inhibition
(Lubow & Gewirtz, 1995). Thus, creativity could be associated with psychopathology due to
its relationship with personality variables that would cause such a predisposition, more than
because of any direct relationship with emotional alteration (Chavez-Eakle, Lara & Cruz-
Fuentes, 2006). As Behrens (1975) acknowledges, the difference between the creative person
and the lunatic would be the same as that between Cervantes and Don Quijote: one constructs
metaphors, the other believes them to be real. Therefore, does creativity represent a protecting
factor against psychopathology? Does it represent a risk due to its association with altered
forms of thought, with cognitive styles that can also produce psychopathological symptoms?
In a meta-analytical study that relates positive and negative emotions with creativity, it
was inferred that creativity has complex relationships with positive and negative emotions
(Baas, De Drew & Bernard, 2008). The authors suggest that perhaps it is not a matter of es-
tablishing whether positive or negative emotions have better effects on creativity, but estab-
lishing their interaction with activation levels and cognitive effects related to creativity (cog-
nitive flexibility, fluency, originality, etc.). Specifically, in this meta-analysis, an increase in
creative product was also found in relationship to negative emotions such as anxiety and fear,
because of persistence with an objective and focusing attention on it (Baas, De Drew & Ber-
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nard, 2008), necessary characteristics for developing a creative product. In short, this meta-
analysis finds that the hedonic tone variable and level of activation interact: neither is suffi-
cient to explain the effects of emotions on creativity. Therefore, in some situations negative
emotions might also favor creativity. On occasion, given a creative capacity, the creative
product or performance could be encouraged or favored by both positive and negative emo-
tions (which may lead to psychopathological symptoms). Therefore, more research would be
needed in order to fully understand the relationship between psychopathology and creativity.
Objectives and hypotheses
1. To evaluate the hypothesis of optimism as a protective factor against psychopathol-
ogy, as indicated by data from other studies, such that optimism would relate negatively to
psychopathological symptoms. To contribute this evidence by relating the measure of disposi-
tional optimism, LOT-R (Scheier, Carver & Bridges, 1994) with the psychopathology meas-
ure, SCL-90 (Derogatis, Lipman & Covi, 1973). No other research studies were found that
take this approach.
2. To verify, in a university student population, whether this association between crea-
tivity and psychopathology was found to exist in one direction or another, given the contro-
versy seen in research studies to date. Our hypothesis is that creativity would be negatively
related to psychopathological symptoms.
Method
Participants
The sample was made up of 113 students from the University of Murcia in different
degree programs.
The percentage of women (63.72%) was greater than the percentage of men (36.28%).
Mean age for the sample was 22 years old. Characteristics can be found in Table 1. 77.7 % of
The relationship between optimism, creativity and psychopathological symptoms in university students
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the participants reported a medium socioeconomic level, 18.4% a low level, and 3.9 % a high
level. Table 1 illustrates the sample profile.
Table 1. Sample descriptive data on gender and age
N (%)
Mean age (s.d.)
Men
41 (36,28)
23.76 (7.33)
Women
72 (63,72)
22.06 (4.50)
Total
113
22.65 (5.68)
Instruments
LOT-R (Life Orientation TestRevised): dispositional optimism was evaluated using
the measure by Scheier, Carver and Bridges (1994), in its Spanish version by Ferrando, Chico
and Tous (2002). It is a self-report that evaluates general expectations toward positive or neg-
ative outcomes for the future, such that high scores on this questionnaire indicate high dispo-
sitional optimism, and low scores report low dispositional optimism. It is composed of 10
items, 4 of which are fill-in (ítems 2, 5, 6, 8) and have no validity for the analysis. Of the
remaining 6 items, 3 are scored directly and the others indirectly. Subjects are asked to indi-
cate their degree of agreement or disagreement with affirmations like ―during hard times, I
generally expect the best, using a 5-point scale from 0 (disagree strongly) to 4 (agree strong-
ly).
The psychometric studies performed with this inventory show that its internal consis-
tency (Cronbach alpha) ranges between .74 (Schou, Ekeber, Ruland, Sandwick & Karesen,
2004) and .78 (Scheier et al., 1994). As for psychometric properties of the Spanish version,
Ferrando and collaborators (2002) confirm adequate validity of the questionnaire and
Martínez, Reyes del Paso, García and González (2006) obtain a reliability α of .75.
CREA: in order to evaluate creativity, the test by Corbalán (CREA) was used, provid-
ing a global, quantitative measurement of creativity. This test presents a 4 minute duration for
formulating questions about a picture card that is presented to the subjects. The number of
questions that are generated is interpreted as an indicator of cognitive flexibility and as a mea-
surement of the subject’s capacity to relate cognitive schemas, something highly related to
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creativity (Corbalan, Martínez, Donolo, Tejerina & Limiñana, 2003). The instrument has been
used on other occasions and has been recognized for its good psychometric qualities (TEA
EDICIONES Prize 2001). It has been shown to be related to other instruments and measure-
ments of creativity, with high correlations between them. According to the instrument data, it
presented a reliability index of 0.7919, thereby indicating good psychometric properties.
SCL-90 (Symptom checklist 90Revised): The 90-symptom questionnaire by Deroga-
tis (1973) is a self-administered instrument that assesses the presence and intensity of 90 psy-
chiatric and psychosomatic psychopathological symptoms. The Spanish version was devel-
oped by Gónzalez de Rivera and collaborators (1989), who find adequate psychometric cha-
racteristics of the instrument. However, it should not be used for diagnosis of psychopatholo-
gy (Thompson, 1989). After its application, 9 symptomatic dimensions of psychopathology
are obtained, and three global indices. Test duration ranges from 12 to 15 minutes. Scope of
application is from 13 years of age and older. The scales include symptoms related to somati-
zation (SOM), obsession-compulsion (OBS), interpersonal sensitivity (shyness, embarrass-
ment, feeling inferior to others, oversensitivity to the opinions of others) (INT), Depression
(DEP), Anxiety (ANX), Hostility (HOS), Phobic anxiety (PHO), Paranoid ideation (PAR),
psychoticism (PSY) and an additional scale with various items not covered in the above
(ADD). Each item of the SCL-90 is rated on a 5-point Likert scale, indicating the discomfort
perceived over the last 7 days.
As for the psychometric properties of the Spanish version, González de Rivera, De Las
Cuevas, Rodriguez and Rodriguez (2002) confirm adequate validity of the questionnaire. For
reliability, they obtain an α greater than 0.81 on all the scales of the SCL-90.
Procedure and statistical analysis
The three tests were applied to a sample of 113 univeristy students (72 women and 41
men) from different degree programs and different years of study, taking advantage of a pub-
lic speaking course offered by the university. The tests of creativity, optimism and psychopa-
thological symptoms described above were administered.
The scores obtained after correlating the instruments were analyzed using Pearson’s
correlation index in order to evaluate the degree of association between these three variables.
The relationship between optimism, creativity and psychopathological symptoms in university students
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A p<0.05 was taken as stastistically significant. Likewise, regression analyses were performed
in order to evaluate the percentage of variance of the psychopathological symptoms explained
by the variable optimism and creativity. Just as other studies have done in order to study le-
vels of creativity and their relationship with psychopathology, an analysis of variance was
also carried out in order to compare the means of different levels of creativity and the psycho-
pathological symptoms. In order to execute this analysis, the subjects were grouped into three
groups (low, medium and high creativity), based on cut-off scores set at one standard devia-
tion above and below the mean, and the SCL-90 psychopathology scales were compared as a
function of this grouping.
Results
Gender differences in psychopathology, creativity and dispositional optimism
No significant differences according to gender were found in the variables of creativi-
ty, dispositional optimism and psychopathological symptoms. Only marginally significant
differences were found (t = 1.879; p = .063) in depressive symptomatology, indicating that the
women present more depressive symptomatology than the men. See Table 2 for more infor-
mation.
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Table 2. Differences of means between genders. Descriptive data (mean and standard
deviation) for each gender on the different dimensions of the SCL-90.
n
Mean
sd
Error
T
d.f.
P
SOM
71
.9965
.74261
.08813
1.602
108
.112
39
.7799
.53921
.08634
OBS
71
1.2634
.67934
.08062
1.038
108
.302
39
1.1231
.67647
.10832
INT
71
1.2034
.82487
.09789
1.131
108
.260
39
1.0228
.75582
.12103
DEP
71
1.1300
.76467
.09075
1.879
108
.063
39
.8600
.63306
.10137
ANX
71
.9690
.63574
.07545
.649
108
.518
39
.8872
.62668
.10035
HOS
71
.8028
.67100
.07963
.408
108
.684
39
.7479
.68278
.10933
PHO
71
.4809
.55865
.06630
.937
108
.351
39
.3846
.42499
.06805
PAR
71
1.4038
.94519
.11217
.997
108
.321
39
1.2179
.91539
.14658
PSY
71
.6366
.60857
.07222
-.080
108
.936
39
.6462
.57849
.09263
MIS
71
.9839
.72182
.08566
.541
108
.589
39
.9084
.65669
.10515
GSI
71
.9962
.59245
.07031
1.226
108
.223
39
.8573
.52245
.08366
PST
71
46.4930
18.67074
2.21581
.689
108
.492
39
43.8462
20.33346
3.25596
PSDI
71
1.8184
.52656
.06249
1.614
108
.109
39
1.6571
.45103
.07222
Correlational analyses
Significant negative correlations were found between optimism and all the psychopa-
thological aspects evaluated by the SCL-90, except hostility (HOS). The most intense correla-
tion was between depression and optimism (r=-.502; p<.001) and between interpersonal diffi-
culties and optimism (r=-.447; p<.001). The Global Severity Index (GSI) was also inversely
related to optimism as measured by the LOT-R (r=-.459; p<.001). These results indicate an
The relationship between optimism, creativity and psychopathological symptoms in university students
Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 8(3), 1151-1178. 2010 (nº 22). ISSN: 1696-2095. - 1165 -
inverse relationship between presenting psychopathological symptoms and levels of optim-
ism.
Correlations between psychopathological symptoms and creativity were null. The rela-
tionship between creativity and dispositional optimism, although positive, was not significant
and it approached 0 (r=.035; n.s.), indicating that they are two different constructs and not
related to each other. Table 3 shows the correlation between the psychopathological symp-
toms scales and their relationship to optimism (LOT-R) and creativity (CREA).
Table 3. Correlations between creativity, optimism and psychopathological variables
measured by the SCL-90 (* p<0.05; **p<0.01;***p<0.001).
Lot-R
CREA
SOM
-.289**
.121
OBS
-.438***
.089
INT
-.447***
.026
DEP
-.502***
.007
ANX
-.406***
.106
HOS
-.106
.097
PHO
-.383***
.013
PAR
-.401***
.156
PSY
-.403***
.043
MIS
-.273***
.106
GSI
-.459***
.089
PST
-.390***
.073
PSDI
-.403***
.076
Regression analysis
Given that the correlations could be understood in two directions (e.g. it may be that
those who have less psychopathology present more optimism), regression analysis was per-
formed in order to come closer to the consideration of a causal relationship.
Regression analyses carried out using the optimism variable show that the psychopa-
thological symptoms measured using the SCL-90 are predicted by the LOT-R score. The va-
riables best explained by optimism were depressive symptoms (DEP; 24.5% of the explained
variance) and the general level of somatic and psychological suffering (GSI; 20.3%). The re-
maining results are found in Table 4.
Oscar Sánchez et al.
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Table 4. Simple regression analysis using the variable optimism as a predictor of each of the
psychopathological symptoms scales of the SCL-90.
LOT-R
R
R2
R2 cor.
E. typ.
Estimat. F
SIG.
SOM
.289
.084
.075
.62089
9.688
.002
OBS
.438
.192
.184
.61029
25.152
.000
INT
.447
.199
.192
.71382
26.416
.000
DEP
.502
.252
.245
.61091
35.780
.000
ANX
.406
.165
.157
.57877
20.957
.000
HOS
.106
.011
.002
.66708
1.208
.274
PHO
.383
.147
.139
.48079
18.221
.000
PAR
.401
.161
.153
.86077
20.323
.000
PSY
.403
.163
.155
.54352
20.582
.000
MIS
.273
.074
.066
.066
8.530
.004
GSI
.459
.211
.203
.50338
28.306
.000
PST
.390
.152
.144
17.72113
19.033
.000
PSDI
.403
.162
.154
.45224
20.540
.000
SOM = Somatization; OBS = Obsession-Compulsion; INT = Interpersonal Sensitivity; DEP = Depresión; ANX= Anxiety; HOS = Hostility;
PHO = Phobic Anxiety; PAR = Paranoid Ideation; PSY = Psychoticism; MIS = Miscellaneous; PSDI = Positive Symptoms Distress Index;
GSI = Global Severity Index; PST =Positive Symptoms Total.
When regression analyses were performed using the creativity variable as the predic-
tive variable, no significant prediction was observed between creativity and the different di-
mensions of psychopathology. Results of these analyses are seen in Table 5.
Table 5. Simple regression analysis using the variable creativity as a predictor of each of the
psychopathological symptoms scales of the SCL-90.
CREA
R
R2
R2 cor.
E. typ.
Estimat.F
SIG.
SOM
.121
.015
.005
.67411
1.550
.216
OBS
.089
.008
-.002
.68353
.833
.363
INT
.026
.001
-.009
.80660
.068
.794
DEP
.007
.000
-.009
.74056
.005
.943
ANX
.106
.011
.002
.62733
1.202
.275
HOS
.097
.009
.000
.67003
.999
.320
PHO
.013
.000
-.009
.50458
.019
.891
PAR
.156
.024
.015
.92043
2.609
.109
PSY
.043
.002
-.008
.60282
.196
.659
MIS
.106
.011
.002
.70129
1.194
.277
GSI
.089
.008
-.001
.57119
.844
.360
PST
.073
.005
-.004
19.21800
.569
.452
PSDI
.076
.006
-.004
.50960
.605
.438
SOM = Somatization; OBS = Obsession-Compulsion; INT = Interpersonal Sensitivity; DEP = Depresión; ANX= Anxiety; HOS = Hostility;
PHO = Phobic Anxiety; PAR = Paranoid Ideation; PSY = Psychoticism; MIS = Miscellaneous; PSDI = Positive Symptoms Distress Index;
GSI = Global Severity Index; PST =Positive Symptoms Total.
The relationship between optimism, creativity and psychopathological symptoms in university students
Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 8(3), 1151-1178. 2010 (nº 22). ISSN: 1696-2095. - 1167 -
Differences of means in psychopathology between different levels of creativity
We decided to study the differences between different levels of creativity (low, me-
dium and high), using one standard deviation above and below the mean as cutoff points, as
they relate to psychopathology symptoms. Different levels of psychopathology were found as
a function of creativity levels. For the less creative group, marginally significant differences
appeared for the phobic anxiety variables (F = 2.567; p = .082) and the psychoticism variable
(F = 3.384; p = .038). For the highly creative group, such differences appeared in paranoid
ideation (F = 3.052; p = .052). Generally speaking, participants with medium levels of creativ-
ity present lower psychopathology scores on the majority of scales. Results are found in Ta-
ble 6.
Table 6. Differences of means in psychopathology according to the level of creativity.
Mean and standard deviation for each creativity group (ANOVA)
Creativity levels
N
Mean
sd
Error
d.f.
F
P
SOM
Low C
11
.9015
.62674
.18897
2
.294
.746
Medium C
82
.9045
.68320
.07545
High C
14
1.0536
.70226
.18769
104
Total
107
.9237
.67585
.06534
106
OBS
Low C
11
1.4545
.82263
.24803
2
1.350
.264
Medium C
82
1.1634
.63877
.07054
High C
14
1.3857
.80274
.21454
104
Total
107
1.2224
.68299
.06603
106
INT
Low C
11
1.5051
1.13133
.34111
2
1.784
.173
Medium C
82
1.0759
.71261
.07869
High C
14
1.3254
.96714
.25848
104
Total
107
1.1526
.80305
.07763
106
DEP
Low C
11
1.3986
.89365
.26944
2
1.715
.185
Medium C
82
.9728
.66791
.07376
High C
14
1.1044
.94578
.25277
104
Total
107
1.0338
.73708
.07126
106
ANX
Low C
11
1.1364
.82616
.24910
2
1.989
.142
Medium C
82
.8732
.55534
.06133
High C
14
1.1714
.80616
.21545
104
Total
107
.9393
.62793
.06070
106
HOS
Low C
11
.7424
.64275
.19380
2
.557
.575
Medium C
82
.7642
.64786
.07154
High C
14
.9643
.82994
.22181
104
Total
107
.7882
.67003
.06477
106
PHO
Low C
11
.6883
.83009
.25028
2
2.567
.082
Medium C
82
.3885
.42785
.04725
High C
14
.6020
.53797
.14378
104
Total
107
.4473
.50224
.04855
106
Oscar Sánchez et al.
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PAR
Low C
11
1.3636
1.13240
.34143
2
3.052
.052
Medium C
82
1.2317
.79942
.08828
High C
14
1.8810
1.28673
.34389
104
Total
107
1.3302
.92739
.08965
106
PSY
Low C
11
.9727
.74712
.22526
2
3.384
.038
Medium C
82
.5683
.49861
.05506
High C
14
.8643
.88457
.23641
104
Total
107
.6486
.60053
.05806
106
MIS
Low C
11
1.0519
.70933
.21387
2
1.886
.157
Medium C
82
.8955
.65563
.07240
High C
14
1.2755
.90084
.24076
104
Total
107
.9613
.70193
.06786
106
GSI
Low C
11
1.1444
.74356
.22419
2
1.956
.147
Medium C
82
.8911
.50976
.05629
High C
14
1.1484
.71808
.19192
104
Total
107
.9508
.57077
.05518
106
PST
Low C
11
50.2727
20.89541
6.30020
2
.721
.489
Medium C
82
44.4390
18.18838
2.00857
High C
14
49.2143
23.68764
6.33079
104
Total
107
45.6636
19.17887
1.85409
106
PSDI
Low C
11
1.9095
.58382
.17603
2
2.118
.125
Medium C
82
1.7112
.48558
.05362
High C
14
1.9731
.54384
.14535
104
Total
107
1.7658
.50865
.04917
106
Discussion
This study seeks to verify whether optimism and/or creativity are protective factors
against psychopathology. Regarding optimism, a large quantity of research was found that
reveals the protective effect of optimism, in terms of both psychopathological variables and
physical health, proceeding from either conception of optimism (as an expectation of the fu-
ture or as an explanatory style). The results of this study are supportive of the proposed hypo-
thesis of dispositional optimism as a protective factor against psychopathology, in all the di-
mensions of the SCL-90 (with the exception of the hostility dimension). The data carry strong
statistical significance, especially in depressive symptomatology, concurring with the propos-
al from Seligman (1998; 2005), where he proposes a program to foster optimism in schools as
prevention against depression. The data from this study point in this direction, likewise sug-
gesting a need for programs that promote psychological wellbeing and the prevention of psy-
chopathology, including the fostering of optimism in students. Also worth noting is the strong
negative relationship between dispositional optimism and interpersonal difficulties, such that
The relationship between optimism, creativity and psychopathological symptoms in university students
Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 8(3), 1151-1178. 2010 (nº 22). ISSN: 1696-2095. - 1169 -
the encouragement of optimism could have an enhancing effect on programs that seek to im-
prove social skills. Dispositional optimism could also be a protective factor against interper-
sonal difficulties that may appear, keeping in mind the importance of social support for psy-
chological wellbeing, which in turn depends on having good interpersonal skills (Inglés,
2007), where optimism also seems to place a decisive role (Seligman, 2005). Regression ana-
lyses helped in coming closer to a causal relationship between dispositional optimism and
psychopathology, beyond the correlations found. Programs for fostering optimism have nor-
mally worked on explanatory style, particularly when facing negative situations. However, an
optimistic explanatory style when facing positive situations has also been found to be a pro-
tective factor against depressive symptomatology (Sánchez & Méndez, 2009b), and to be re-
lated to dispositional optimism, such that expecting good results in life, along with explaining
these good results through internal, stable and global causes, could substantially increase the
benefits on health and psychological wellbeing that these variables might have separately
(Sanjuán & Magallanes, 2006).
Regarding creativity, although this study did not find a significant relationship be-
tween creativity and psychopathology, the different psychopathological profiles found for the
different levels of creativity clarify the traditional view that indicates a direct relationship be-
tween psychopathology and the great creative minds (Eysenck, 1993). The data show a U
effect where both extremes of creativity are accompanied by higher levels of psychopatholo-
gy. With low levels of creativity we found greater levels of psychopathology in depression,
phobic symptoms and the psychoticism scale, which could be explained by greater cognitive
rigidity. However, the highest level of paranoid ideation is found in participants with a high
level of creativity. Other authors, in analyzing creative individuals, found that they scored
higher on psychopathic deviation and schizophrenia, using the MMPI, and interpreted this as
the use of unusual thinking, less inhibition and greater imaginative freedom (MacKinon,
1962). Creativity could be favored by cognitive styles that encourage thoughts that range far
from the customary, and, as in a study by MacKinon, this could be confused with distancing
from reality or psychotic symptoms. However, in the case of low creativity, the lack of cogni-
tive flexibility would also involve adaptation difficulties that could translate into psychopa-
thological symptoms if the subject cannot meet the demands of the environment.
The present research produced data with higher scores in paranoid ideation for sub-
jects with high creativity. One possible explanation for the high scores in paranoid ideation
Oscar Sánchez et al.
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(PI) may be found in two items included in scoring this scale: ―having ideas or thoughts that
others do not understand‖ and ―feeling that others do not value me as much as I deserve‖. In
this sense, making distant, original associations, described as a requirement for creativity,
could be related to these experiences.
Along these same lines, greater levels of divergent production are also related to high-
er levels of unusual associations and lesser access to physical sensations, which, according to
Damasio’s theory of somatic markers (Damasio A., 1994), has been related to greater difficul-
ty in conditioning and learning, and subsequently lower levels of socialization. And according
to some authors, these lower levels could be related to higher levels of psychoticism, as hy-
pothesized by Eysenck (Galang, 2010). This situation could explain why we do not find a
greater protective effect at higher levels of creativity than at medium levels: the negative ef-
fects of unusual associations could also produce greater psychopathology.
It is interesting to note that the data collected here point in the same direction as
another study where a group composed of individuals with medium levels of psychopathology
presented higher scores on creativity, indicating a slight association with psychopathology
(Ghadirian, Gregoire & Kosmidis, 2001). This concurs partially with trends found in this
study.
The data found here, however, contradict other studies where creativity not only is not
associated with psychopathology, but a predominance of positive emotions benefits creativity
(Lyubomirsky, King & Diener, 2005). This would follow in the line of other authors who find
hypomanic states to facilitate divergent production (Nettle, 2002).
Chavez-Eakle and collaborators (2006), using the Torrance test, found inverse rela-
tionships between creativity and psychopathological symptoms measured with the SCL-90
(Chavez-Eakle, Lara & Cruz-Fuentes, 2006). The data found in this study do not totally con-
cur with those of Chavez-Eake, since different levels of creativity present different psychopa-
thological symptoms. On the other hand, in the study by Chavez-Eakle (2006), psychopathol-
ogy was found to be more associated with personality than with creativity. Perhaps that study
also measures other aspects related to personality variables in addition to the creativity varia-
ble, or perhaps the sample used in that case (highly creative subjects, control subjects and
psychiatric patients) present different psychological characteristics from our group of stu-
The relationship between optimism, creativity and psychopathological symptoms in university students
Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 8(3), 1151-1178. 2010 (nº 22). ISSN: 1696-2095. - 1171 -
dents, and the creativity and psychopathology variables behaave differently. It would be use-
ful to consider whether the beneficial effect of creativity on psychopathological symptoms
could be mediated by other variables such as, for example, emotional intelligence. Olatoye
and collaborators (2010) find that creativity is related to emotional intelligence, the latter be-
ing positively associated with physical and mental health (Martínez, Piqueras & Ramos,
2010).
Conclusions
Regarding the first objective of this study, we confirm the findings from other research
that indicate optimism as a protective factor against psychopathology (Carr, 2007; Ortiz et al.,
2003; Seligman, 2005). In general, statistically solid results were found that reinforce it as a
protective factor, principally in the dimensions of depression and interpersonal difficulties.
This supports those programs that promote wellbeing and prevention of depression based
primarily on fostering optimism and interpersonal skills in the educational context (Seligman,
2005). It is especially noteworthy that new evidence has been put forward to confirm this rela-
tionship using the assessment instruments of dispositional optimism, LOT-R (Scheier, Carver
& Bridges, 1994) and the psychopathology measure, SCL-90 (Derogatis, Lipman & Covi,
1973): no other research studies were found that have studied this using these two instru-
ments. It is important to note that the programs that foster optimism have focused their work
on explanatory style, primarily when facing negative situations. However, an optimistic ex-
planatory style when facing positive situations has also been found to be a protective factor
against depressive symptomatology (Sánchez & Méndez, 2009b), and to be related to disposi-
tional optimism, such that including both cases in these programs could increase the benefits
that these variables would have separately (Sanjuán & Magallanes, 2006).
We also suggest keeping in mind new concepts and their relationship with optimism,
such as explanatory flexibility and other factors that might have influence, such as self-
esteem, the perceived controllability of stressful situations, and the degree of importance as-
signed to these situations (Sánchez & Méndez, 2009b).
In this study we did not find a significant relationship between creativity and psycho-
pathology, although data were found that imply differences in psychopathological profiles as
Oscar Sánchez et al.
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a function of creativity levels. If creativity can be independent of psychopathology and crea-
tivity is favored by the confluence of creativity and optimism, this may result in improved
capacity for creative production and in improved health, by promoting emotional states that
can encourage creativity. Other studies have found that creativity and positive emotions may
be associated and that they ought to be included in health prevention programs. The purpose
would be to include them within the variables being evaluated, especially in those individuals
that present a greater psychopathology index. However, a bigger sample, the use of other psy-
chopathology and creativity measurements and their relationship to other variables are all
needed in order to shed greater light on the relationship between creativity profiles and differ-
ent psychopathological profiles.
In response to our initial question as to whether creativity represents a protection fac-
tor against certain types of psychopathology, the results of this study did not find any signifi-
cant relationship between the two variables, although differences were found according to
creativity level, where medium levels of creativity are more related to lower psychopathology
in depression, phobic symptoms and the psychoticism scale, while for high levels, the greater
distance between concepts and associations that are at the limits of consensus and social ac-
ceptability could result in a subclinical form of psychopathology as suggested by Prentky
(p. 262) (Glover, Ronning & Reinolds, 1989).
When considering the relationship between creativity and psychopathology, perhaps
one should clarify what definition of creativity is being used by the measurement instrument
employed, the level of creativity (low, medium, high), the specific type of psychopathology it
is being linked with, and other variables, such as gender. Several studies (DeMoss, Milich, &
DeMers, 1993; Andreasen 1987) have indicated that these aspects might help to clarify this
complex relationship between these two variables, this undoubtedly representing an attractive
field to continue to explore.
On the other hand, it is a challenge for creative individuals in particular, and for a so-
ciety that pursues development and progress in the face of this century’s new threats and op-
portunites, to integrate novelty within a context that can recover innovation in a productive
form, shielding against the effect of psychopathology.
The relationship between optimism, creativity and psychopathological symptoms in university students
Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 8(3), 1151-1178. 2010 (nº 22). ISSN: 1696-2095. - 1173 -
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