Explaining Premature Mortality Across Fields of Creative Endeavor

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Abstract

It has been established that eminent creative writers tend to die younger than their counterparts in other creative-achievement domains. The present study replicates these findings using a data set of 2102 eminent historical subjects from seven different disciplines, and reviews three extant explanations for this phenomena. Each explanation was tested using an indicator of versatility. None of the life-span hypotheses extended from each explanation to the interaction of achievement domain × versatility was supported. In particular, no models were able to account for the precipitous decrease (2.7 to 8.6 years) in the life spans of versatile scientists when compared to nonversatile scientists. Consequently, a new explanatory model was proposed that draws on psychopathology, vocation choice, and personality characteristics as factors underlying the apparent differences in life span across achievement domains and versatility.

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