Why being a loner may be good for your health

Christine Ro:

One key benefit is improved creativity. Gregory Feist, who focuses on the psychology of creativity at California’s San Jose State University, has defined creativity as thinking or activity with two key elements: originality and usefulness. He has found that personality traits commonly associated with creativity are openness (receptiveness to new thoughts and experiences), self-efficacy (confidence), and autonomy (independence) – which may include “a lack of concern for social norms” and “a preference for being alone”. In fact, Feist’s research on both artists and scientists shows that one of the most prominent features of creative folks is their lesser interest in socialising.

One reason for this is that such people are likely to spend sustained time alone working on their craft. Plus, Feist says, many artists “are trying to make sense of their internal world and a lot of internal personal experiences that they’re trying to give expression to and meaning to through their art.” Solitude allows for the reflection and observation necessary for that creative process.

A recent vindication of these ideas came from University at Buffalo psychologist Julie Bowker, who researches social withdrawal. Social withdrawal usually is categorised into three types: shyness caused by fear or anxiety; avoidance, from a dislike of socialising; and unsociability, from a preference for solitude.

A paper by Bowker and her colleagues was the first to show that a type of social withdrawal could have a positive effect – they found that creativity was linked specifically to unsociability. They also found that unsociability had no correlation with aggression (shyness and avoidance did).