Creativity and Deviance: The Present State of the Issue in Psychology



Creativity is realised in various types of the criminal and deviant behaviour in almost all the spheres of activity. The interest of psychologists in this phenomenon is growing but the issues of the diagnostics of malevolent creativity (MC), predictors of the realisation of original decisions in the behaviour, and the evaluation and examination of negative creativity (NC) remain unresolved. While the results of the MC harm are clear to both the idea generator and the victim, the results of NC cannot always be assessed and examined due to the absence (or the disguise) of the intent to cause harm. The present article aims at reviewing the results of the research of the relationship between creativity and deviance. We provide a review of the types of deviant behaviour in business, science and everyday life situations and the analysis of its predictors. Based on the analysis of the results of the research of prosocial creativity in various branches of psychology, the authors identify the factors that promote the manifestation and inhibition of the relationship between creativity and deviance, and suggest preventive measures for MC and NC. Predictors of MC and NC, diagnostic methods and problems of expertise are analysed. A refined model of the relationship between creativity and deviance is proposed: the psychological characteristics of the leader and implementers, types of the situations of the MC and NC manifestation are expanded. The following factors are highlighted: a) the resistance to negative innovations; b) the factors that affect the assessment and expertise of both one’s own and other’s creativity and deviance.

General Information

Keywords: creativity, deviant behaviour, malevolent creativity, creative deviance, the expertise of negative creativity, the model of creativity and deviance

Journal rubric: Psychology of Deviant and Criminal Behavior

Article type: scientific article


Funding. The reported study was funded by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR), project number 19-113-50075.

Acknowledgements. The authors would like to express their gratitude to V.Yu.Shchinov for the assistance in translating the present article.

For citation: Meshkova N.V., Enikolopov S.N. Creativity and Deviance: The Present State of the Issue in Psychology [Elektronnyi resurs]. Psikhologiya i pravo = Psychology and Law, 2020. Vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 86–107. DOI: 10.17759/psylaw.2020100307.

Full text


Creativity is one of the key competencies of the 21st century. There is hardly a field of activity which does not need any new and efficient ideas. Deviant behaviour, which manifests creativity, draws more and more attention of psychologists. The manifestation of creativity and the criminal intention is most obvious in fraud, and it is also observed in theft and murder, cybercrime, drug smuggling, human traffic, terrorism [19] and the transportation of dangerous materials [30]. It is reflected in the theoretical basis of the malevolent creativity [19]. The manifestation of creativity is especially noticeable in the white-collar crime, that is corruption, and in the field of organizational psychology – the climate in the group (mobbing and bullying).

 However, deviant behaviour also manifests in such fields as business [39; 58; 60], science [41], politics [47; 60], education [5] and in the social interaction in everyday life [6; 7; 9; 10; 11; 33]. Lying, cheating, counterproductive behaviour at work, the concealment of evidence of domestic violence or self-harm, e-mail spam, spreading rumors, and aggressive forms of humor [30].

One of the ussues is how to apply the scientific knowledge about creativity to prevent those types of deviant behaviour [31]. K. James and D. Drown propose the approach that includes several stages: the identification of risk zones, the analysis of security weaknesses in these zones, and the development of countermeasures against the identified weaknesses and for the purpose of an efficient response [31]. Although this approach refers to prevention measures against terrorism and for the protection of the transportion of dangerous materials, it can be applied to all the fields of malevolent creativity.

As to the “peaceful” spheres of activity, it is necessary to understand the features of personality and the context in which certain personality traits manifest. At the same time, the issues of diagnostics and predictors of the implementation of original solutions in behaviour remain unresolved [46; 21]. A series of our empirical studies include samples of different ages: students of schools and universities of different types, adults with various types of education and different convicts. They have identified the features of negative and malevolent creativity and their predictors, and the contribution of the interaction of emotional intelligence, Machiavellianism, values, personality traits, hostility, etc. to creativity and behaviour. Our research has also revealed age-related and gender features of that relationship and has provided age and gender profiles of negative and malevolent creativity [1; 2; 3; 6; 7; 9; 10; 11]. During the study of the phenomenon, a model of the relationship between creativity and deviance has been developed [5; 8], which includes the following components: resources, situations, ways to solve problem situations, the result. The features of the components have been identified. This makes it possible to analyze the phenomena of negative and melavolent creativity in various fields of activity.

Russian researchers are interested in practical solutions by foreign colleagues of the issues of the relationship between creativity and deviance to identify factors that contribute to that relationship’s manifestation and inhibition, in developments on the expertise of negative creativity in various fields of activity (business, science, education and social interaction) and the research on creative resistance to innovation. It is noteworthy that the problem of resistance to innovation is particularly relevant for Russia. The example of education has shown that ill-conceived innovation triggers the negative creativity in performers [5].

The present article aims at reviewing the results of the study of the relationship between creativity and deviance. There are following tasks: 1) to consider the types of deviant behaviour in different spheres of activity in which creativity is realised; 2) to consider the predictors of malevolent creativity; 3) to cover the issues of the expertise of negative and malevolent creativity; 4) to identify the factors of resistance to innovation. The attention should be also drawn to the issue of a negative influence of a creative person on others. Based on the analysis of the literature including the aspect of prosocial creativity, we will suggest prevention measures against the performance of two types of creativity in the deviant behaviour and clarify our previously developed model [see 8] of the relationship between creativity and deviance.


Deviant behaviour in which creativity is realized: types, factors, and prevention measures


One of the types of deviant behaviour in which creativity can manifest in everyday life is a verbal aggression, lying, and malicious jokes/quip that can harm other people [26]. When adapting the questionnaire of N. Hao et al., which diagnoses the “malevolent” creativity in the behaviour [26], we showed that in adolescents, consent and conscientiousness of “The big five” traits were very important [11]. The results obtained in a sample of police staff without any law education allowed assert that the combination of a low hostility with a high personal self-regulation and self-control could become a resource for the resistance to malevolent behaviour, in particular, corruption [9]. Another study showed that the values of the social focus “Traditions” and “Conformism-rules” (The Portrait Values Questionnaire-Revised) could block the connection of the components of aggression with malevolent creativity [10]. It was also shown that in the criminal behaviour of different criminals, the emotional intelligence has an ambiguous influence: a poor understanding of other people's emotions and a low interpersonal intelligence might be used in fraud and mercenary-violent crimes, while a higher level of interpersonal intelligence — in aggressive-violent crime [3]. Thus, the interventions that developed self-control and self-regulation could become prevention measures against deviant and criminal behaviour. At the same time, one should carefully employ programs for the development of emotional intelligence in order not to promote the manipulative behaviour in adolescents with asocial tendencies.

One of the types of the deviant behaviour that manfests the creative thinking is aggression. The research shows that interventions to prevent this type of deviant behaviour should be used in childhood. According E. Tacher’s and C. Readdick’s results, second-formers already find positive correlations of the verbal flexibility with the physical and verbal aggression, and the threat of aggression; the fluency and uniqueness of speech – with the verbal aggression. The authors assume that creativity is necessary for an efficient coping with stressful situations [52]. It is consistent with D. Harris’s opinion that creative people are willing to accept aggressive ways of thinking and action when stressful situations require an original response, and it makes it easier for them to adapt to a stressful situation [30]. Thus, one of the prevention measures that reduce the malevolent creativity, and subsequently, deviant behaviour may be training to overcome stressful situations, especially in the social interaction and problem solution in situations of social interaction.

As to the deviant behaviour in business, everything is not so unambiguous. As a matter of fact, deviance can be both negative and positive [30; 40], and the deviant behaviour of employees in innovations can be either non-acceptable, or desired and appreciated by the company [20].

According to R. Merton, the innovative type of deviance emerges in the presence of several conditions: the relevance of the goal for both the organisation and its employees (when the performance criterion is the number of developments with the following performance payments) and the lack of resources to use the specified means (for instance, the time limit or insufficient personnel disrupt the standards for testing new products) [see 20]. This type of deviance may be caused by a dysfunctional administrative control [20] and may be neccessary for the organisation. G.M. Spreitzer and S. Sonenshein suggest the term of a positive deviation, implying that the organisation does not always lose due to the violation of its rules. In the positive deviation, positive intentions are an important component, which do not always lead to positive results. Its peculiarity is that it is freewill, and is not forced or non-mandatory. The results of positive deviation are about a subjective well-being, long-term efficiency, and lead to the development of organisational norms [51].

E. Purc’s and M. Laguna’s study of the innovative behaviour of employees at their workplace has shown that it is associated with the values of the personal focus (except for the openness to change); the professional autonomy (the independence of decision-making by the employee) mediates this relationship [45]. In other words, providing more autonomy to employees in their work and engaging employees with a high level of self-improvement values make it possible to increase the innovative potential of the organization and environment for employees. However, the values of the focus of personality are positively associated with both malevolent and negative creativity in hostile people [1; 7; 10]. Therefore, by reducing the autonomy of such employees, it is possible to restrain the realisation of harmful ideas or to prevent the fullfilment of the solutions (though original) that can cause harm.

 An undesirable deviance at the workplace is based on a deliberate violation of organizational norms that endangers the well-being of the organization or its members. One of the types of behaviour that may threaten the well-being of the organization is a creative deviance. This term is introduced by S. Mainemelis who understands this phenomenon as the violation of the management's order to stop developing some new idea [40]. It is important that this behaviour may be based on the prosocial motivation (i.e., no intention to cause harm – the authors’ note [50]). The results of such behaviour can lead to both negative and positive consequences [40]. They also include the emergence of new innovations as a positive consequence, and the waste of the organization's resources and the loss of the management’s control of the actions of employees as a negative result [50].

 The deviance that threatens the well-being of the organization members manifests in the competition for scarce resources: promotion, contest for bonuses, project assignments and incentives. It is shown that competition (in the context when a positive result for one competitor is associated with a negative result for another competitor) is positively connected with risk-taking [32], creativity [15], and unethical behaviour [34]. Often, competition manifests itself in boastful self-evaluations or offensive comments about the rival, i.e. in the aggressive communication that includes taunts criticizing the opponent's personality, the group membership, competence or performance, and self-aggrandizement. The so-called “trash-talk” is a competitive communication strategy. Its more complex forms are invented and include sarcasm, hyperbole and metaphors; they are meant to intimidate, distract, or humiliate the target and to increase the self-esteem of the “garbage man” [58]. It is easy to note that this type of deviant behaviour is very often used in politics. For instance, Donald Trump insulted his rival for the 2016 Republican nomination, Carly Fiorina, crying: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” [58].

J. Jip and co-authors investigated how those strategies impact their victims in a certain struggle. The case of trash-talk was as follows: before performing a creative task, one of the pair of participants said offensive words to the other in a rude manner, and that he would lose, etc. (the competition took place because a winner in the creative task would get a reward).According to the results, in that type of competition, victims sufferred the reduction in the creative thinking in comparison with participants of a neutral communication. In our opinion, the authors showed that trash-talk impelled the victim to fraud. For instance, in the case of competition in creative thinking, the victims behaved dishonestly, faking the results of the task [58]. In other words, offensive words that humiliate the dignity and hurt the self-esteem, caused dishonest an unethical conduct. One might suppose that the threat to self-esteem promotes the deviant behaviour and malevolent creativity. Thus, the malevolent creativity may become a coping strategy to overcom threats to self-esteem that one should check in the empirical study.

Deviant behaviour at the workplace takes various forms: theft, fraud, working at half stength, sabotage, various types of aggression, absenteeism, taking psychotropic substances and destruction of property. Investigating this phenomenon in terms of the moral self-regulation theory [16], X. Zheng and colleagues suggest that the creativity of employees and their moral identity influence the deviant behaviour. The important thing is a moral self-justification (a combination of cognitive excuses that allow committing immoral acts without any sense of guilt and self-punishment). The study has shown that the creativity of employees does not exert any significant influence upon their deviant behaviour. But creative employees behave in a deviant way at the workplace when their moral identity is low and is not at the central place in their self-opinion. Moreover, there are results that have received no attention: positive correlations of the indicator of job satisfaction with creativity, and negative correlations of the indicator with the moral justification and deviant behaviour at the workplace. In other words, the job satisfaction can play a significant role in the employee’s behaviour and reduce the motivation to violate organizational norms and rules. It is expedient for the organisation to monitor the psychological well-being of its own employees in order to regulate the job satisfaction ontime through training programs or incentives. The merit X. Zheng and co-authors is also in the fact that they draw the attention to not only deviant but to the pro-organizational behaviour, assessing the importance of the problem, and why and when employees perform unethical actions with the organization’s consent of [60] and, moreover, under its compulsion. In our view, this is an important point that is common in advertising, politics and other spheres of activity. Thye cheat creatively for profit or power, or make ambiguous laws promotng to use loopholes, even in cases when this causes moral violations. And this is an important: how to prevent immorality and self-justification during the creative act and the realisation of a creative idea?

The results obtained by R. Nouri and colleagues may help to answer this question. They studied the influence of culture on the creativity of Americans and the Chinese in the social context which intensified the values of power distance and collectivism, and working alone. It turned out that cultural values activated by the social context did not exert the same influence on different components of creativity: originality of the idea, fluency and the complete elaboration, depending on the relevance of cultural values in relation to each of the three components. As the representatives of an individualistic culture, Americans working in the team showed a low level of responsibility for the results of the team, reduced the efforts and generated fewer new ideas [43].

A high moral identity of the manager and his/her behaviour as a role model and as examples for the employees might become another constraining factor. L. Tanggaard reasoned that creativity could set others in motion, and creative persons were able to inspire others and persuade them to invest resources, energy and time in their ideas [53]. More than thirty years ago, in the Soviet psychology, a team of authors under A.V. Petrovsky’s leadership showed that a creative teacher affected the creativity and attitudes of his students, contributed to changing the criteria for evaluating the behaviour of other people, to increasing the variability of their own behaviour and reducing the conservatism of value-normative orientations [4]. Those changes occurred in students due to the fact that teachers paid special attention to the moral aspects of the personality.

At present, the moral and ethic aspects of personality and ethical behaviour are on the periphery of attention. Under those conditions, the position of authorities in the media is very important. It sets norms of behaviour at all the levels and in all the spheres of social life. The created representation of a full permissiveness translates an unethical behaviour as normal. In our opinion, a creative non-moral personality is the personality who can inspire others by his/her own example, persuade them to invest resources, energy and time in the ideas aimed at solving only his/her own selfish problems, cynically hiding him- or herself with the care about others. Taking into account the influence of the moral identity upon the person’s behaviour, particularly on a creative person, it is necessary to consider the possibility of developing programs on the development of the moral identity, the atmosphere of morality and ethics that makes it possible to reduce the level of deviant behaviour of highly creative employees [60]. Foreign researchers have come to these conclusions, studying creativity within the framework of organizational psychology. These conclusions are relevant not only to ordinary employees but, first of all, to the management. They are important to both politics and education.

According to M.B. Gutworth et al., the deviant behaviour evoked by the malevolent creativity manifested in a innovative way. Therefore, it was often difficult to detect and prevent it. In addition, when the purpose was to harm another person, the means to achieve it might not be malicious. For instance, a higher productivity of one employee could become a means of harming the reputation of another one. A series of studies by these authors tested the hypothesis of the dependence of the originality, usefullness (a component of creativity that determines the applicability of the response to the problem and its efficiency as a solution) and intent to cause harm upon the nature of the purpose and means of achieving it. The manipulation of the benevolence/malice of purpose and that of means showed that situational variables significantly increased the variance of the creativity variables in comparison with models that included only gender, cognitive abilities and personality traits. It was also shown that the purpose and means could interact: being malicious, they promoted the originality and malice of decisions.

In addition, they tested the hypothesis of the dependence of behaviour and the malevolent creativity upon informal interpersonal signals. Within the study, during the brainstorm, they manipulated the presence of a “dissident” and the valence of ideas expressed during the brainstorming. The students (participants) were asked to watch the video of the brainstorming session, and then to make a creative solution of a problem which was important for the University. According to the results, the informal signals that showed their disagreement with the expressed opinion of the “dissident”, and the task that implied harm, mediated the increase in such components of creativity as originality, usefulness and malice. At the same time, the significance of informal signals was higher than individual differences [24]. In other words, the authors showed a substantial role of situational variables in the harmful creativity in comparison with personality traits. It was noteworthy that the subjects generated ideas, and it was unclear how they would really act. In this case, the authors’ conclusion was important for practice: the wording of the task should be positive in order not to stimulate the generation of harmful ideas [24].

Another type of deviant behaviour was catagelasticism – an unhealthy disire to laugh at other people [12]. René T. Proyer and colleagues investigated the dark sides of humour in a large sample (5000 persons at the average age of 39; a third of them were males). They showed that catagelasticism correlated positively with a high humour, courage and creativity, and negatively – with forgiveness and justice [44].

Thus, the results of research in various fields of psychology show their importance in relation to deviant behaviour. A creative potential of personality and the following features can be realised in it. These are personal traits: forgiveness, justice, responsibility, moral identity and the ability to cope with stressful situations; and situational characteristics: a positive formulation of the task, job satisfaction, the threat to self-esteem, competition, the professional autonomy of the employee.


Factors and predictors of malevolent creativity


Malevolent creativity (MC) is the creativity that results in intentionally causing harm to other people. Different age samples demostrate that the predictors of MC are as follows: 1) aggression as an integral indicator [26] in students (most of them are women); 2) hostility (the cognitive component of aggression) and a low social focus of values [6; 7; 10] in those convicted of various offenses, and a low ablity to understand their own emotions within the structure of emotional intelligence [2]; 3) hostility, Machiavellianism, a low neuroticism and poorly expressed features of “The big five”, “Consent” [9] and “Conscientiousness” [3] in the sample of cadets; 4) hostility and aggression in police staff without any law education [9]. In addition, it is shown that there are gender-related and age-specific characteristics in the malevolent creativity. Qualitative age-specific and gender-related features of personal predictors of malevolent creativity are detected: hostility in men and aggression in women. The specificity of the adolescent malevolent creativity is about the fact that negative predictors include the traits of “The big five” – “Consent” and “Conscientiousness” – associated with deviant behaviour. They are not observed in adult respondents [11]. It is noteworthy that we share generating harmful ideas and their realisation because different people can perform this. Our results make it possible to consider hostility (as a cognitive component of aggression) to be a predictor of harmful ideas, and this is typical of men. And the realisation can be done by individuals with a high aggression and/or with a poorly developed traits of The big five – “Consent” and “Conscientiousness” – that is typical of women and adolescents.

Since the intention to cause harm underlies malevolent creativity as a separate type of creativity, it has become relevant to study this within the framework of motivation. N. Hao and colleagues in a series of his studies show that MC correlates negatively with the avoidance motivation and positively with the approach motivation; moreover, aggression plays a more important role in people with a low approach motivation. Manipulating the motivational orientation of the subjects with a monetary reward for the quantity of the MC ideas shows that the originality and quantity of ideas on MC are significantly higher in the approach motivation than those in the actualization of the avoidance motivation [27]. One should note an important result in one of the studies of those authors: they indicate that the failure in the task performance stimulate the originality and fluency in the MC in the both types of motivation; at the same time, these indicators are higher in the approach motivation than those in the avoidance. It is interesting that MC does not differ in the case of approach motivation with a successful task performance and in the case of avoidance motivation with the failure. This fact shows the important role of the experience of failure mediating the MC growth in the case of avoidance motivation [27]. In all the three studies carried out by the team of authors under N. Hao’s leadership, the sample of subjects consists mostly of young women that does not allow the results to be spread to the entire population. Therefore, the authors’ recommendations about the ways to reduce MC lie in reducing the approach motivation and intervention, which allow antisocial individuals to experience success [27], and rather refer to young women. And the research of such interventions on young men will be substatiated after studying the relationship between motivation and MC in a sample of men.

L. King and S. T. Gurland have reached some interesting conclusions during the study of creativity when making a collage: the threat of evaluation kills the sense of competence when performing a creative task and reduces an internal motivation [35]. The meta-analysis of the research of motivational mechanisms of creativity in business by D. Liu and colleagues completes the picture. According to the results of the meta-analysis (an independent sample of 51000 individuals), motivational mechanisms, such as the internal motivation (interest and pleasure in the activity performed), self-efficacy (subjective perceptions of the employee that he or she can perform this activity) and the prosocial motivation (the desire to benefit other people) are associated with the individual creativity. At the same time, they function differently as mediators of the connection between context, personality and creativity: autonomy in work and openness to experience are associated with the internal motivation; the complexity of work and the trait “Conscientiousness” – with self-efficacy; a supportive leadership – with the prosocial motivation [38].

Although all of these results refer to the prosocial creativity at the workplace, they can be useful to understand the negative creativity, i.e. the creativity without any intent to harm, or the prosocial task solution in an illegitimate way. We have shown that negative creativity is characteristic of hostile people with a low conscientiousness [9; 11], and in order to reduce their possible activity, it is necessary to reduce their internal motivation by decreasing their autonomy at work, increasing the control by the leader and giving no difficult work. Another measure to reduce the negative creativity may be a transformational leadership that promotes the creativity of employees and makes them able to experience a high level of the prsonal control over the results of their own work and work role, and changing the interests of personality in favour of public [56].

According to the dynamic model of creativity and innovation in the organization by T.A. Amabile and M.G. Pratt, the internal motivation was a key variable in creativity at the workplace, and the environment, the meaning of work, employees’ perception of of their environment at the workplace and the behaviour of leaders were the moderators of that relationship [13]. Within this model, they tested the connection between a proactive personality and creativity; at that, the internal motivation of employees and their interaction with the leader were investigated as mediators of that relationship. It turned out that if the subject and the manager both participated in the independent, change-oriented and future-focused behaviour (that is, the personality of the both was proactive), it strengthened the employee’s ideas about the equity of interaction with the leader and led to a greater creativity in the work of those employees who had a minimal value of the variable of the power distance [49]. In other words, low values of the power distance in employees released the internal motivation reducing the limitations of existing norms and rules, and promoted creativity. As to the negative creativity, in order to reduce its manifestation in employees, probably, one should enhance the distance of power in order, conversely, to increase the restrictions of the norms and rules of the organization.

K. Hannam and A. Narayan show that the equity of the remuneration distribution and the interpersonal equity (the employee’s perception that he is esteemed by others) are significant mediators of the connection of the internal motivation and creativity. The authors of the study have come to the conclusion that inequity is the stress that consumes cognitive forces, and it causes harm to the creative process [25]. In terms of the malevolent creativity, we believe that inequity is the context in which the subject can use creative abilities to harm other people, in particular, to sabotage the workflow, that is, to behave deviantly.

Thus, we can distinguish the following characteristics that make a great contribution to creativity: hostility, values, the internal motivation, the perception of the environment as equitable (in remuneration, the interpersonal equity), consciensciousness, the personal control over the results of one’s own work, the norms and rules of the organization, the distance of power, the behaviour of leaders, the situation of evaluation, the subjective experience of success and the climate of the organization.


Issues of diagnostics and criteria for the expertise of the negative and malevolent creativity


The assessment of creativity is determined by a personal and social view on the product of the creative process [47]. Therefore, one may consider the malevolent creativity and its results both from the point of view of their bearer and from the social point of view. “The Malevolent Creativity Behavior Scale” questionnare developed by N.Hao and colleagues [26] (the Russian version [10]) is based on the self-report of behaviour in which the malevolent creativity can be realized: lies, malicious jokes and cuasing harm to others through some original aggressive methods [26]. The subject himself evaluates the frequency of that type of behaviour.

In the case of negative creativity, the person with a legitimate task is not often imagine any possible harm of his idea. Therefore, experts have often to assess of the valence of the result. In one of our studies, adolescents are asked to come up with as many solutions of a prosocial situation as possible that none have ever created before. The most original solutions may be characterized and evaluated as harmful to other people [1; 6]. The possibility of generating such ideas may take place due to moral and morality in the society; there are unspoken norms that promote such behaviour or do not condemn it. The position of leaders, including state leaders, plays an important role. In the organizational psychology, it is shown that the creative deviance (for instance, the breach of the order to seize developing and realising a new idea) is accompanied by realisation in case if it is encouraged by the leader promoting creativity [37].

K. Logan and colleagues analyse innovations in terrorism by the example of violent extremist organizations. The authors suggest an interesting idea: in order to weaken innovations in the group, one should use the reverse side of the principles that increase and stimulate innovations [39]. However, it is necessary to understand not only the strategies that contribute to a positive creativity but to take into account the influence of the context which can weaken or enhance the creativity, and how the context interacts with the traits of personality and its motivation [21].

M. Baas and colleagues showed that in the case of the social threat, people suggested more malicious ideas in order to defeat rivals in negotiations, especially if they had a high motivation for cognition. Thus, owing to their dispositional motivation to process the relevant information systematically, these people were more motivated for protection and aggression in response to social threats and in producing harmful ideas [14]. This study related to the social interaction in negotiations and was designed so that the task initially provoked hostility to rivals.

D.G. Dumas and A.L. Strickland developed a different approach who studied the relationship between a divergent thinking and harmful activity with the help of the unusual use of 10 items. Malevolent responses were encoded by the following categories: damage to property, harm to humans, harm to animals, the general harm and self-protection. It turned out that a spontaneous malevolence revealed itself in the largest number of ideas of an unusual use of a brick, a shovel and a hammer; the largest number of malevolent responses referred to the category of the general harm (no specified target). The most original answers referred to the fork, and the least malicious answers were invented for the table. Those who generated more ideas had more originality. Thus, when diagnosing creativity, the authors showed a disproportion in the number of malevolent responses [21]. In their investigations, the context was absent, and the malevolence was not expected in the given situation (in comparison with the study by M. Baas and colleagues, in which the context initially implied threat and caused the malevolent creativity). However, the subjects generated malevolent responses. The authors explained this by the fact that some of the items were associated with violence. They made the conclusion that the divergent thinking and malevolence were different constructs. Thus, employing the unusual use of objects, it was difficult to identify a negative and a malevolent creativity, whereas they were identified by means of social situations from the real world (the Real World Divergent Thinking Task).

Our supposition was confirmed by the results obtained by H. Kapoor and A. Khan. They studied the degree of influence of tasks with different contents on the prosocial and negative creativity: by means of object-oriented tasks and tasks for a divergent thinking from the real life. It was demonstrated that, when solving social cases of the real life, originality was higher in the presence of unintentional harm (negative creativity), and responses to real situations were more negative than in tasks to imagine an unusual use of objects [33]. It is noteworthy that the methods used did not have any predictive power in that how the subject would behave in the real life.

As to the assessment of the negative and the malevolent creativity and the criteria for this assessment, interesting results were obtained. D. Cropley and colleagues showed that creativity was perceived differently depending on how malicious it was, and personality variables could facilitate this relationship [19]. Studying the influence of the context on the perception of the harmful activity and creativity in the hypothetical scenarios, R. McBain and colleagues assumed that the constellation of extraversion, openness to experience, narcissism and psychopathy affected the perception of malicious creativity, and the reaction to a hypothetical scenario of malicious creativity would be stronger in the recency and efficiency. The participants had to rank answers of the different connotation (negative/hostile and prosocial) and the different creativity (high and low) towards two scenarios (benevolent and malicious context), and choose their preferred answer to the scenario. In the malicious context, the subjects perceived the evil and harmful versions as less malicious, while the good and harmless options were perceived as more malicious in comparison wth the benevolent context. Vice versa, the subjects within the benevolent context tended to perceive both malevolence and benevolence more acutely. In addition, in the malicious context, the subjects considered the evil and harmful methods of activity to be more efficient. Psychopathy became the only predictor of the perception of malevolence [41]. Thus, these authors demostrated the significance of the role of context and psychopathy as the dominant factors in the perception and evaluation of the malevolent creativity.

The subject's life history may also make it difficult to assess negative and malevolent results of the creative process: the past negative experience, negative events of life and distructiveness lead to the mechanisms of justification and the individual interpretation [29]. S. Lee and G. Dow conclude that people who show a physical aggression do not consider their ideas as aggressive and have fewer prohibitions against the idea or the generation of malicious ideas [36]. Accordingly, one may assume that they are likely to tend to justify the malevolent ideas of other people.

An important parameter that makes it difficult both to evaluate one’s own creativity and to assess the results of other people’s creativity is a low level of morality and moral of the subject. This phenomenon is often defined in science as falsifications and plagiarism. K. Tirri concludes that high intellectual abilities of a gifted student do not predict his or her mature moral judgments. Therefore, it is important to discuss with future scientists ethical aspects of the scientific research to ensure their moral growth [55]. Accordingly, one can speak about that low moral judgments will justify an unethical activity of scientists and other people, in particular plagiarism. M.B. Gutworth shows that the manipulation of the ethical component (reading an excerpt from the code of conduct at the University, with different emphases on the importance/non-importance of adherence) is an intervention that prevents the unethical behaviour. It consists in deceiving the experimenter by the subject. When the ethical uncertainty is reduced, and the rules are strengthened, there is no link between the creative potential and deviation; on the contrary, under conditions of the ethical uncertainty, creative individuals are more likely to justify and engage in an unethical behaviour [24]. Thus, in the uncertain situation with a low ethical significance, creative persons with a low moral identity do not assess their results as malevolent and negative.

M.D. Mumford and colleagues studied the relationship between creative abilities and ethical decisions in young scientists. It was established that the ethical decisions were linked to creative processes of problem solution; at that, late-cycle processes (for instance, the generation of ideas and monitoring of solutions) were particularly important. Discussing the relationship between creative and deviant thinking, the authors came to the conclusion that creative abilities to search for information and choose a concept were negatively associated with the ethical decisions in the educational activity [42].

Conservatism in the political system constrains the manifestation of the creative process. M.A. Runco and colleagues analyses the presidential election in the USA. According to the results, fewer patents are issued in Counties and States with a high conservatism. The number of patents is high in the presence of the racial diversity and a high educational level. Thus, conservatism is negatively associated with creative achievements, and the liberal thinking is important not only in the political arena but in other spheres of life, as well [48]. As to malevolent and negative creativity, this is a conservative expert who is useful to evaluate the ideas. When accepting the ideas, for instance, in the social sphere, it requires a balanced opinion of those who resist innovations. In this case, the assessment of the usefulness of the idea should come to the forefront rather than its novelty. K. Yong et al. show the important role of the asymmetry of conflict in interdisciplinary teams involved in the development of nanobiotechnological devices. They demostrate that the conflict of tasks, the team size and the functional diversity are the main factors of the usefulness of an idea. That kind of conflict stimulates the convergent thinking which take part in selecting an idea as useful [59]. It makes it possible to avoid making decisions that may cause the unintentional harm to others. When establishing teams that develop programs to solve problems in the social and political spheres, one should take into account that creativity is negatively associated with censorship [61].

Thus, one can distinguish the following characteristics of experts and features of the context of their interaction that affect their assessment of a creative solution/idea and methods of its realisation: conservatism, the asymmetry of conflict in interdisciplinary teams, the organization’s ethics, a negative history of the life of the expert, the context and psychopathy, a high motivation for cognition in combination with the context of the social threat.


A refined/updated/revised model of creativity and deviance


The analysis of publications on the issue of creativity and its manifestation in the deviant behaviour enables us to propose a model of creativity and deviance (see [8]). This model reflects the resources involved in the creative process, conditions, the goal, means and the result with a target. The model is important and makes it possible to analyse the group and individual creativity and describes predictors and the generation of the idea and its implementation [8]. The authors have been testing the model for a number of years. The present review of the literature about creativity and its connection to deviance makes it possible to supplement the proposed model (see figure) in the section of Resources and Conditions. It also allows identifying the parameters that can reduce the realisation of harmful ideas in various fields of activity.


     Fig. Updated model of creativity and deviance [8].


The present review allows us to draw the following conclusions:

1.   The deviations in which creativity is realised can be positive and negative. The violation of the norms of the group/organization and society may underlie deviation. There are subjects of activity that violate the norms of the group, society and those who violate the norms of society for the sake of of their own organization. At that, their intentions can be either positive or negative. Deviations occur in the situations which represent competition and a threat to self-esteem.

2.   The assessment and expert examination of one’s own and other creativity and deviation depends on conservatism, the asymmetry of conflict in interdisciplinary teams, the ethics of the organization/society, a negative history of life, psychopathy, a high motivation for cognition in combination with the context of the social threat, hostility and aggression, and moral identity.

3.   The leader can foster malevolent and negative creativity in the group by manipulating an internal motivation of the employee/a group member through increasing the distance of power and the autonomy of subjects, the valence of the task formulation, and manipulating the satisfaction of employees and the ambiguity of norms and rules. It is important that the leader has a high level of moral identity.

4.   Forgiveness, equity, responsibility, moral identity and the ability to cope with stressful situations  are the factors that inhibit the manifestation of creativity in deviations.

5.   Conservatism and a positive life experience are the factors of resistance to negative innovation.

6.   The enhancement of the norms and ethics of the group, organization, socium and leadership may become the strategies to prevent the realisation of malevolent creativity in the deviant behaviour.

As to the trends for further research of malevolent and negative creativity, most of the conclusions presented in the article are hypothetical and “capsized” into the field of deviance out of the investigations of the prosocial aspects of creativity. A further research is necessary for their empirical verification.


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Information About the Authors

Natalia V. Meshkova, PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor, Chair of Theoretical Foundations of Social Psychology, Faculty of Social Psychology, Moscow State University of Psychology and Education, Moscow, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:

Sergey N. Enikolopov, PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor, Head of Department of Clinical Psychology, Mental Health Research Center, Moscow, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:



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