Just Tell Yourself Your Bad Traits Are Good for You

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01 Jun 1964 --- 1960s smiling seated baby wrapped up in tangled tape measure --- Image by ? ClassicStock/Corbis
Photo: ClassicStock/Corbis

If you begin to believe your not-great personality quirks are actually beneficial, you’ll behave as if they really are, suggests a new study that explores the silver lining of negative traits. The paper, published online this week, will appear in the March issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology  and the lead author is New York University doctoral candidate Alexandra Wesnousky. 

In one experiment, the researchers first primed some people to believe they were very impulsive, by providing them with bogus high scores on an impulsiveness test. Next, they gave some of the participants a fake news article that discussed the science linking impulsiveness and creativity. (So much mild deceit in these psych studies sometimes.) Finally, the study volunteers were given a timed task designed to measure their creativity; in one instance, they were shown an ordinary nail and given three minutes to think of as many uses for it as they could. Those who’d been made to believe that they were impulsive, and that impulsiveness is associated with creativity, ended up generating more ideas for ways to use the nail.

Let’s think of some more upsides to negative personal attributes, shall we? Yes, my desk is a mess, but messy desks really have been linked to higher creativity. Maybe I worry about things a smidge too much sometimes, but there’s some evidence that suggests a little worrying is healthy for you. And, fine, I am habitually late for things because I think I have time to cross everything off on my to-do list and leave the house on time, but, really, that’s just my optimistic nature, and optimism is of course associated with a longer, healthier life. This is fun!