The Creative Personality, According to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi was one of the world's most renowned psychologists. His research included the study of ten main personality traits of the creative personality.
The Creative Personality, According to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 13 November, 2022

One of the central themes of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s work was creativity. He interviewed 91 people in depth who stood out for their creative work. This allowed him to make a detailed description of the creative personality based on ten traits.

Asked about the definition of creative personality, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi claimed that he could summarize it in one word: complexity. He was referring to the fact that creators tend to have great contrasts in their way of being. They’re usually ‘extreme’ people: aggressive and cooperative, introverted and extroverted, etc., at the same time. However, they only behave one way or another at a time, depending on the circumstances.

Csíkszentmihályi is known for being the creator of flow theory. He proposed that the creative personality is characterized by its multidimensionality. He said that it’s as if, within this type of personality, there’s not one individual, but a multitude. In fact, he proposed the existence of ten basic traits.

If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different to others, it would be complexity.”

Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi

Woman thinks of creative ideas

The role of physical energy in the creative personality

Physical energy isn’t one of the traits that come to mind when talking about creative personalities. However, Csíkszentmihályi found that these people are capable of going through stages of great physical exhaustion especially when their projects demand it. They also experience periods of complete rest and calm .

They’re brilliant and naive at the same time

Another paradoxical trait in creative personalities is that they can be quite sharp and clever in some aspects, but also extremely naive in others. This idea is embodied in the stereotype of the genius who creates wonderful inventions but has no idea how to dress or tie his shoelaces.

Fun and discipline at the same time

Csíkszentmihályi found escapist traits in the creative personality. He discovered that creators tend to apply great discipline to their work but, at the same time, take periodic breaks from it to engage in trivial activities. They might even use this time to satisfy unhealthy habits or addictions.

Fantasy and realism

It’s extremely common for creative people to be really strict and methodical when approaching certain aspects of their work. However, they occasionally also take paths that are downright crazy. Therefore, they’re both highly imaginative and rational. Both are traits that are difficult to balance.

Extroverts and introverts

Creative people tend to become extremely talkative and exultant when they’re in the finishing stages of their projects. That said, if they’re in the formative phases or have encountered obstacles they seem to completely withdraw from the world and it’s really difficult to get a word out of them.

Too much humility and pride at the same time

They often display traits of extreme humility when forming or testing their ideas. In fact, they always doubt whether or not they’ll be able to achieve a result and are often really strict with themselves. If they get what they want, they go to the opposite extreme. They think that there’s no one better than them and they succumb to their pride.

They escape sexual stereotypes

Another trait of the creative personality is that they show great independence in the face of stereotypes of what a woman or a man ‘should’ be. Indeed, they frequently transgress the behavior patterns that the environment imposes on them. This means they often express themselves without gender ties.

Conservatives and rebels

More often than not, creative people first strive to know and master the established parameters in a given field of art or knowledge. They try to stick to them. Later, they do the opposite. They focus on breaking the schemas they’ve learned.

Extremely passionate yet uninvolved

The creative personality is one of extremes. They often put their best efforts into what they do. In fact, they tend to be passionate about doing so. However, once they’re finished, it seems as if they’re no longer interested. They may even criticize their work and end up throwing it away if there’s nobody to stop them.

Creative man looking at some brushes

They experience pain and pleasure with equal intensity

Creative individuals suffer. They usually expose themselves to pain voluntarily and are also really sensitive to the pain of others. They live it, savor it and recreate it. At the same time, they seek pleasure with great zeal. In fact, they’re capable of reaching excesses in their search. Consequently, they have a hard time reaching the middle ground.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi went so far as to say that everyone has the germ of a creative personality inside them. Nevertheless, education usually induces us to develop only one of the poles of our abilities and our way of being. Csíkszentmihályi believed that all those other dimensions remain in the background, waiting for the opportunity to express themselves.

It might interest you...
Five Secrets to Unleashing Your Creativity
Exploring your mind
Read it in Exploring your mind
Five Secrets to Unleashing Your Creativity

Creativity is a skill that can be learned and practiced. The best thing is that all of us can do it, and it's not for the select few.



  • Abuhamdeh, S., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). The artistic personality: A systems perspective. In The systems model of creativity (pp. 227-237). Springer, Dordrecht.
  • Conde, L. (2012). La personalidad creativa: un sistema complejo. Eduardo Chillida y Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
  • Martínez, O. L., & Lozano, J. N. (2010). Rasgos de personalidad y desarrollo de la creatividad. Anales de Psicología/Annals of Psychology26(1), 151-158.