What do you think an artist, Wolfgang Beltrachhi; a political scientist, Michael LaCour; and a group of anonymous hackers, the Impact Team have in common? All of them used their creativity with an intent to harm. Recent research published in the book, “Creativity in the Arts, Science and Technology” studies the three different cases to gain a better understanding of malevolent creativity.
Malevolent creativity can be understood as a process of creating something original, effective/usable with the intent to harm someone. Researchers from the Departments of Psychology and Economics at Monk Prayogshala, examine how a person’s traits and tendencies relate to engagement in malevolent creativity within the framework of David H. Cropley’s model which incorporates valence with 4 P’s of Rhode’s creativity model. Three cases were studied in the field of arts, science and technology.
The first studies the artist Wolfgang Beltrachhi, who successfully impersonated 50 artists and created original works by them, which were believed to be lost. In this act, there was intent to deceive those in the field for monetary gains. Beltrachhi could forge paintings because he had a conducive environment for his work. Examinations of ‘the confessions of a genius art forger’ show that he had narcissistic tendencies, behaved nonchalantly and displayed omnipotent traits. This can be seen in his interviews where he said that his classical paintings were even better than the originals, after he was caught.
The second case in the field of science is about the researcher Michael LaCour who fabricated data to yield preconceived results. He manipulated data to show that homosexuals had a better chance than heterosexual people to change voter attitudes about same sex marriage. He indulged in academic dishonesty which is detrimental to scientific progress, and therefore is malevolent. He never admitted to committing scientific fraud publicly or even in private to his colleagues. His defense statements put light on his narcissistic tendencies and that he could go to any extent ensure that his study would be published.
The Impact Team, a group of hackers demonstrated the product of creative teamwork. The Impact Team threatened to divulge confidential data if the website Ashley Madison didn’t shut down their intent was malevolent to Ashley Madison as well as its users. As they were shrouded in anonymity of the group, it is difficult to identify individual traits. It can be understood however, that they engaged in hacktivism and were motivated by moral absolutism and righteous ideals. This case is different from the others, where the product of creative malevolence wasn’t created but accessed in a novel manner. While the other two cases involved use of deception, this one didn’t. This implies that malevolent creativity doesn’t always involve manipulation and that it doesn’t require that something new be created. Across the three examples it can be seen that the people who engaged in malevolent creativity, had a lot of background knowledge and could be considered experts in their field.
This study provides insight into motivation for malevolently creative products. In the case of Beltrachhi, it was for economic purposes; whereas self esteem needs and status were the factors that motivated the scientist Michael LaCour and the Impact Team was acting because of moral motives. It also helps us to understand that manifestations and repercussions of malevolent creativity across domains are different because of subjectivity in appreciation and recognition of what is creative.
Additional research is called for, to understand more about the factors leading to malevolent creativity, to integrate malevolent creativity in the existing models of creativity, to develop tools that can measure malevolent creativity and to develop a methodical way to study this concept.
Malevolent creativity is used for many reasons that are anti humanitarian. For example, torturing people in new creative ways to coerce sensitive information from people, terrorist organizations use it to produce explosives, conmen who design elaborate plans to cheat people off their money. These incidents highlight the pressing need upon us to understand malevolent creativity better.
Kapoor, H., Tagat, A., & Cropley, D. H. (2016). Fifty shades of creativity: Case studies of malevolent creativity in art, science, and technology. In F. Reisman (Ed.), Creativity in the arts, science, and technology (pp. 25-44). London, UK: KIE Conference Publications. doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.4702.4244
A copy of the paper is available to credentialed journalists upon request, contact Monk at email@example.com or +91 9167226458.
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Monk Prayogshala is a not-for-profit organisation conducting research in the areas of psychology and economics. Following rigorous processes in the development of research, the organisation seeks to enhance the practicability of the disciplines. It has several national and international publications to its credit and continues to work in this domain with the aim of advancing academic research in India.