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A conversation with Andreea Sutu and Rodica Damian

An interview

We recently had a chat with Andreea Sutu and her supervisor Rodica Damian, whose article titled, “Creating Through Deviancy or Adjustment? The Link between Personality Profile Normativeness and Creativity”, recently got accepted for publication at EJP.  Andreea currently works as a PhD student at the University of Houston.

Read on to learn more about personality profile normativeness and creativity!

Q: Hello there! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what got you interested in personality psychology?

Andreea: I'm a fourth year graduate student at the University of Houston. I pursued Psychology in my undergrad in Europe, and one of the courses that I really enjoyed was a personality psychology course I took back in my first year of undergraduate studies. Prior to coming to the University of Houston, I worked on research in psychophysiology and in a social-experimental research lab, where I conducted research involving self-control. During these experiences in different research labs, I noticed that most of the research questions that I was interested in could be answered within the framework of individual differences and personality psychology. Later, I observed that this field of study could equip me with strong methodological skills that would allow me to perform robust studies that could answer questions about many areas of our lives.

Rodica: I completed my undergraduate studies at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, and we did not have a single personality course! However, we had excellent courses in other areas of psychology, which inspired me to pursue graduate school. When I went to do my PhD at UC Davis, I thought I was going to do social cognition research on creativity, but then I started working with different advisors, trying to get a feel for different areas, and I realized that the individual differences perspective made the most sense to me. This perspective, and the field of personality in general, allows for a broad integration of different kinds of areas and is methodologically diverse, which I found very exciting.

Q: Were you interested in doing research from the start?

Andreea: That is a good question! Initially, I didn't know. To be honest, I had no idea that you could get a PhD in psychology, even during my undergraduate studies. However, I was fascinated with psychology from the beginning, because back in high school my role model was our high school vocational psychologist. I thought she was a very intelligent, ambitious woman, and a very well-rounded individual who took the time to mentor me and many other students. Because of her, I became interested in the clinical, applied, and “helping other people” aspects of the study of psychology. Then, I became interested in research during my third year as an undergraduate student, when I received a fellowship to work in a psychophysiology lab. There I realized that I was not interested in some of the engineering aspects, such as working with EEG and other sensors that required knowledge of engineering and electronics, but that I was interested in the core aspects of research. In other words, I was fond of the scientific method, but I wanted to apply it to a different topic in Psychology.

Rodica
: I did not plan to do research from the start either, or psychology at all for that matter. In my undergraduate studies, I initially applied to be a political science major, but there was a clerical error and I was signed up for a psychology major instead. Then, I realized I actually liked the psychology courses much more, and I figured I would like to pursue a career in organizational consulting. I only had money to apply to 3 graduate school programs in the US, one of which was a terminal Master's in Industrial/Organizational psychology (a more applied rather than research focus), and two PhD programs in Social-Personality. I got in the Master program, but I could not afford the Ivy League tuition, so I ended up going for a PhD that was fully funded instead, and it turned out I absolutely loved it and that research was what I wanted to do most for the next stage of my career.

Q: What are you most excited about in your job?

Andreea: I am very excited about the process of developing research questions. Perhaps less than 10% of them result in a real project, but I think it's very interesting to come up with the ideas and have conversations on the topic. Ideas seem to flourish, at least in my experience, when I am surrounded by like-minded individuals or brilliant scientists who have a talent for coming up with these questions and make novel connections between already established findings. I enjoy being at conferences, and engaging in conversations about ideas with colleagues who do research in similar or somewhat related areas.

I'm also very excited to be part of a community that engages in open research practices and actively striving to improve psychological science and reproducibility. I was actually introduced to this community in my 1st year when I took a course with Rodica. That course solidified my understanding of why this was necessary. We have been working to pre-register our hypotheses in many of our studies, and we do our best to be open and transparent about our practices, data, scripts, and materials. It's been amazing to see how these kinds of practices have increased in popularity ever since I've been introduced to this field. It's great to be part of this and I think this is the way to go.

Rodica: What I like most about my job is that there's not a moment of boredom because there is a tremendous variety in the kinds of tasks you have to do! Many of these tasks also require completely different skills. When you first start your job, it feels overwhelming, because you basically feel like you don't know anything about how to do the job and there's no manual for it. And it forces you to constantly – at least if you are doing it right, in my opinion – to learn new skills. So, I find it very intellectually stimulating.

Andreea: I absolutely agree that this job requires a variety of skills, and it's a perpetual learning process. I think the PhD training is where you have the opportunity to test several aspects of the job. I've just started teaching and it has been a very rewarding experience.

I never thought that I would be able to be in front of a class and talk to people. But teaching reinforced my love for personality even more, as I was trying to understand it to the level that I could convey information to students. This helped me better understand my own research process and my own motivation in research.

Q: What do you like to do outside of your job?

Andreea: I like to have a very active, outdoorsy lifestyle. When the weather allows, I like running or biking. I enjoy nature, so when I travel I try to be in nature as much as possible. I also like taking photos, although I’m doing a very mediocre job at it. I enjoy dancing, and Houston offers a wide variety of dance classes so I try to take the opportunity to go and learn something new. I also became a foodie ever since I moved here, because Houston offers a crazy variety of food from every country.

I think the other important facet of my personal life has to do with my friendships. I try to cater to that as much as I can and just be a good friend, and tie in my social connections, even though some of my friends are overseas.

Rodica: I also really like being outdoors. Houston has these swampy forests with alligators and nature trails, which are good for long walks in winter when the weather is perfect. So yeah, being outdoors, spending time with my husband and friends, and trying out new restaurants (Houston is quite a foodie city due to its diversity!). I also love cooking food from different cultures.

Q: What is the current study about?

Andreea: This study is about understanding the relationship between personality profile normativeness and creativity. Personality profile normativeness is a construct that measures how similar someone’s personality profile is to the average personality profile of a sample. This can be a proxy for adjustment. The more similar your profile is to this average profile, the more normative you are. It has been found by several studies that this is related to well-being and other positive outcomes, and if someone is more dissimilar to that average profile, this can be a proxy for deviancy. We were wondering what the association was between personality profile normativeness (i.e., how similar or not similar your profile is to the average profile) and creativity.

In the study, we employed a series of designs: we had cross-sectional studies, longitudinal studies, student samples and representative population samples.

Rodica: And we had self- and informant-reports of personality and creativity in the fourth study, which was done in collaboration with Josh Jackson’s Lab at Washington University in St. Louis.

Andreea: Creativity was also measured in different ways. We had behavioral measures, lab-based measures, self-report measures of creativity and creative achievement, and occupational creativity.

Rodica: Occupational creativity is a measure of how much creativity is required by each job. Participants reported their jobs titles and there is this amazing database maintained by the US Department of Labor, O-NET. They had experts and workers rate most jobs in the US labor market, including what kind of creative skills are required by each job. Thus, occupational creativity is not exactly a measure of how creative people are, but since they each have the job that requires those skills, it’s a proxy for that.

Andreea: In terms of findings, within modality, normativeness derived from self-reported personality was related to self-reported creativity, and the same held when both constructs were informant-reported. But the results were not replicated across modalities. In terms of creativity measured in the lab, occupational creativity, or creative achievement, we did not find statistically significant associations between personality profile normativeness and creativity.

The fact that there were some within-modality associations, but not across modalities, may mean that we need to look at implicit lay theories that people have about creativity.

Importantly, people who appeared more deviant in our student and general population samples weren't more creative.

Rodica: I think this is a very popular idea in pop culture: that you have to be deviant to be creative. Among populations of creative geniuses, it does seem to be the case that those who've had more unusual experiences (even negative ones) or that are somehow more deviant are more creative. But that didn't appear to be the case in these four studies, for any of the measures. In fact, like Andreea was saying, more profile normativeness was associated with creativity. But because this finding was limited to within-modality and only for self-reports and informant-reports of creativity, together with the null-findings across modalities and across behavioral measures of creativity, this seems to suggest the findings might be more reflective of implicit lay theories.

Speaking of null findings, I think this paper is a perfect example of how reporting all findings, including all the null findings, not only provides the most honest story possible, but also uncovers new avenues for future research, such as implicit or lay theories of creativity. I am very grateful that the journal wanted our full, unadulterated story.

Q: You mentioned implicit lay theories as a potential mechanism underlying the within-modality links. What kind of theories are you thinking of?

Rodica: Well, we don't have any direct evidence for it, as we didn't test what people's lay theories were. But it is possible that people believe that being more normative is related to being more creative, so they believe that people who seem better adjusted and more similar to the average (normative) profile are more creative. The results across the different studies are consistent with this, because if normativeness, in and of itself, were related to more creativity then we should have also found an association across modalities, such as between normativeness derived from self-reported personality and informant-reported creativity (and vice versa), or between normativess and behavioral creativity. The lack of such associations suggests the associations we found might be better explained by lay theories or the halo effect. We are currently planning studies to test these ideas.

Andreea: The idea of the halo effect is that if you perceive a positive trait, it colors your perception of the whole person as having more positive traits. So if someone has a personality profile that is more normative, they may also be self-reporting with a positive bias on their creativity. And someone who perceives someone else as having a personality profile that is more normative would also be inclined to assume that they have other positive traits such as creativity.

Rodica: And we're not saying that normativeness is necessarily good or preferable, but that it may be perceived by others as a positive quality, because, on average, people tend to like others who are average, expected, or normative, which is why there may be a halo effect.

Q: Any tips or advice for young scholars?

Andreea: That is a very tough question, because I think I'm too early on this road to be equipped in any way to dispense advice.

Rodica: Don't undersell yourself! I think all of us feel like we don't know anything. I think that if you're doing things right, you should feel like that, because you are constantly learning new things. If you feel like you know everything, that is a problem. You have come pretty far, what have you learned?

Andreea: Thinking of it this way, I was wondering what I would advise myself at the very beginning. One thing is to learn a programming language as early on as possible, because it does help with streamlining your research process, and then you can invest the time in the areas of your work that require more analytical thinking. I'm working on improving my R skills right now.

Rodica: First, I think it’s important to be productive and learn by doing. Rather than worrying too much about finding a specific research topic that is supposed to become your life-long passion, I’d advise working on as many projects as you can, so you can get a feel for what makes you most passionate (unless you’ve already found your passion, in which case, go for it!). It’s very difficult to know ahead of time what will work best for you, without doing the work first.

Second, I think learning new methods and statistics is important, and it's such a marketable skill. You want to expand your toolbox so that you can address questions that you are interested in and can address them from different angles. Many people are afraid of statistics, and I used to be as well. Some of my high-school teachers often said in class that girls can't do math, even though we had all tested into an elite math-intensive high-school. And I think there are many other instances in which stereotypes may add to anxiety around methods or statistics, but I would like to encourage everyone to realize that, although stats/methods may be scary at first, you will enjoy it and benefit from it once you’ve gotten the hang of it! It's really important to force yourself to learn, because at the end of the day you're giving yourself more tools to work with and help you investigate the questions you care about in a rigorous manner.


Q: Thanks for the interesting chat, Andreea and Rodica!








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