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One Type of Social Withdrawal May Benefit Creativity

One Type of Social Withdrawal May Benefit Creativity

New research suggests that not all forms of social withdrawal are detrimental. In the first study to show that social withdrawal may include a positive outcome, researchers from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, discovered unsociability, one form of social withdrawal, may actually be beneficial.

The findings published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences suggest that unsociability is not only unrelated to negative outcomes, but linked positively to creativity.

“Motivation matters,” said Dr. Julie Bowker, an associate professor in University at Buffalo’s Department of Psychology and lead author of the study. “We have to understand why someone is withdrawing to understand the associated risks and benefits,” she says.

Bowker’s study may recall Thoreau’s retreat to Walden Pond or Thomas Merton’s work as a cloistered monk. But the benefits of withdrawing to nature or reconnecting to the self have not been well investigated in the psychological literature, according to Bowker.

The new research challenges the negative view of social isolation. “When people think about the costs associated with social withdrawal, often times they adopt a developmental perspective,” she said.

“During childhood and adolescence, the idea is that if you’re removing yourself too much from your peers, then you’re missing out on positive interactions like receiving social support, developing social skills, and other benefits of interacting with your peers. “This may be why there has been such an emphasis on the negative effects of avoiding and withdrawing from peers.”

But, in recent years, Bowker said there is growing recognition for the different reasons why youth withdraw from and avoid peers, and that the risk associated with withdrawal depends on the underlying reason or motivation.

Some people withdraw out of fear or anxiety. This type of social withdrawal is associated with shyness. Others appear to withdraw because they dislike social interaction. They are considered socially avoidant.

But some people withdraw due to non-fearful preferences for solitude. These individuals enjoy spending time alone, reading or working on their computers. They are unsociable. Unlike shyness and avoidance, research consistently shows that unsociability is unrelated to negative outcomes. Bowker’s study is the first to link it to a positive outcome, creativity.

“Although unsociable youth spend more time alone than with others, we know that they spend some time with peers. They are not antisocial. They don’t initiate interaction, but also don’t appear to turn down social invitations from peers. Therefore, they may get just enough peer interaction so that when they are alone, they are able to enjoy that solitude. They’re able to think creatively and develop new ideas, like an artist in a studio or the academic in his or her office,” Bowker said.

In the study, shyness and avoidance were related negatively to creativity. Bowker thinks that “shy and avoidant individuals may be unable to use their solitude time happily and productively, maybe because they are distracted by their negative cognitions and fears.”

For the study, 295 participants reported on their different motivations for social withdrawal. Participants were asked to self-report via a standardized assessment tool that assessed creativity, anxiety sensitivity, depressive symptoms, and aggression. Researchers evaluated participants behavioral approach system (BAS), which regulates approach behaviors and desires, and their behavioral inhibition system (BIS), which regulates avoidant behaviors and desires.

Bowker says there is some overlap in the types of social withdrawal.

Someone might be high in shyness, but also have some tendency toward unsociability. But, the results from her study show that when the research controls for all the subtypes, the three types of social withdrawal are related differently to outcomes.

Not only was unsociability related positively to creativity, but the study findings also showed other unique associations, such as a positive link between shyness and anxiety sensitivity.

“Over the years, unsociability has been characterized as a relatively benign form of social withdrawal. But, with the new findings linking it to creativity, we think unsociability may be better characterized as a potentially beneficial form of social withdrawal.”

Source: University at Buffalo

One Type of Social Withdrawal May Benefit Creativity

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). One Type of Social Withdrawal May Benefit Creativity. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 21 Nov 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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