Is there a reason neurotic people tend to be bigger worriers but also more creative than the rest of us? A newly published theory says yes, and it has to do with daydreaming. Neurotics—famous ones include Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, and, of course, Woody Allen—get anxious and obsessed with everyday things, are risk-averse and brooding, and avoid dangerous jobs, explains Time. But psychologist Adam Perkins wanted to know what all that had to do with being more creative and better at problem-solving. His breakthrough came when he attended a lecture on the connection between daydreaming and creativity by Jonathan Smallwood. He "talked about the way daydreamers' minds wander when they're feeling kind of blue, and my ears perked up," says Perkins. According to the new study by Perkins and Smallwood, neuroticism may be caused by hyperactivity in the brain's medial prefrontal cortex, which handles threat-related thoughts.
They came to this connection thanks to a previous Smallwood study in which he put volunteers into MRI machines with nothing to do, leaving them to daydream. The medial prefrontal cortex is more active in neurotics, who tended to dwell on problems and threats for much longer while daydreaming, according to the Hindu. It could be exactly this inclination to dwell on problems for much longer than other people that allows neurotics to come up with more creative solutions. In short, "the authors argue that the part of the brain responsible for self-generated thought is highly active in neuroticism, which yields both of the trait's positives (e.g., creativity) and negatives (e.g., misery)," according to a press release. Or as Forbes puts it, "the capacity to conjure up threats that don’t necessarily exist could also help you conjure up other types of ideas, ones that are insightful and valuable to problem-solving—i.e., creativity." (Of course, neuroticism has its downsides, too.)