More Is not Always Better: The Differentiated Influence of Empathy on Different Magnitudes of Creativity


  • Sven Form
  • Christian Kaernbach


Recently, researchers have argued about the importance of social aspects in creativity. Based on these arguments, one could hypothesize that if creativity is indeed about social aspects, then a social ability, such as empathy, will be relevant for creativity as an “interface” allowing the person to connect with others. A thorough review of the literature suggests that the association between empathic abilities and creativity may not be as straightforward as this hypothesis and also two recent empirical studies have suggested. This could be attributed to the fact that creativity may involve quite different levels such as creative achievement or everyday creativity. We suggest that social interaction, and with it empathy, plays a larger role in creative achievement than in everyday creative activities. Furthermore, we argue that too much empathy hinders everyday creativity. To explore the impact of empathy on different magnitudes of creativity, we applied two different self-report measures of creativity: creative achievement was measured by the Creative Achievement Questionnaire, while everyday creative activity was measured by the Creative Behavior Inventory. We used the Interpersonal Reactivity Index to measure empathy. Empathy had a positive correlation to achievement, but an inverted-U relationship to everyday creativity. We conclude that more connectedness is not always better for creativity. Therefore, the relevance of social aspects for creativity should not be generalized, but may depend on the magnitude of creativity considered.