The GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity
by: William A. Therivel, PhD
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-GAM/DP Synopsis
-GAM Introduction
-DP Introduction
-GAM/DP Summary
-Mozart and not Salieri
-Personality Families
-Berlin's Hedgehogs & Foxes
-James Joyce - Fox
-Newton's Personality Styles
-Gifted and Talented
-GAM's Marginal Men
-GAM's Heidegger
-GAM's Nietzsche
-GAM's Nathaniel Hawthorne
-German Ethnopsychology
-Japanese Ethnopsychology
-French Ethnopsychology
-Spanish Ethnopsychology
-Chinese Ethnopsychology
-Argentine Ethnopsychology
-Byzantium's Creativity
-Venice's Creativity
-Chaucer's Griselda
-Western Medicine's Origins
-Individual Growth by Thinking GxAxMxDP
William A. Therivel
William Therivel
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-High Creativity Unmasked
-Studying Power
-Studying National Characters
-Studying National Creativity
Biography of Author

An introduction to the GAM part (on individual personality and creativity) of
Therivel's GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity.


The GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity

The above is the title of the first chapter of volume 1 of William A. Therivel's The GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity (G stands for genetic endowment, A for assistances of youth, M for misfortunes of youth, DP for division of power, UP for unity of power). This chapter is the introduction to the GAM part of the theory. For theintroduction to the DP part of the theory click "Introduction to DP".
In this website, the reader is also offered a shortcut: The GAM/DP Synopsis and an expanded version, The GAM/DP Summary of volumes 1 through 6.

Hereafter are excerpts of this chapter:

Introduction and GxAxM
     The GAM theory of personality and creativity (Therivel, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1998, 1999a, 1999b) was born as an explanation of the high incidence of major misfortunes of youth, especially early parental death, in the lives of eminent and highly creative personalities. Robert S. Albert (1983b) has summarized the results of several surveys on the high incidence of early parental death among eminent people: presidents, prime ministers, Nobel laureates, and great scientists. Nevertheless, as noted by Albert: "It is not only eminent persons who have a significantly high frequency of such experiences. Compared to the average of 8% general population experiencing early parental deaths [by age 16], the percentages for adult criminals, adult psychiatric patients (especially depressive), and eminent adults are high and quite close to one another (32%, 27%, 28%)" (p.147). However, if one eliminates from the study all those who had received little assistances of youth (e.g. because of incapable or uncaring parents of low cultural and socioeconomic status), one would probably eliminate, from the comparison, the majority of the criminals (Glueck & Glueck 1950, 1968; Konopka, 1966; West, 1967), and probably a fair number of the psychiatric patients (Sameroff & Seifer, 1989). This would leave the eminent people as the recipients of both strong misfortunes and good assistances of youth. The importance of both misfortunes and assistances (and of the genetic endowment, as soon discussed) explains the name I gave to the theory: GAM, in which G stands for genetic endowment (e.g., for the genetic base of intelligence, temperaments, stamina), A for assistances of youth, M for misfortunes of youth.

     While early parental death is the most studied of the challenging/creativogenic misfortunes, there are many others like long-term parental absence, physical infirmity, lack of parental love, parental domination, uprootedness, parental character/professional failure, illegitimate birth, father/mother incompatibility, suffered parental divorce or separation, severe parental sickness or alcoholism or drug addiction, disliked remarriage of one or both parents, negative differential sibling experiences, and strong sibling antagonism.
     Focusing on children, Albert and Runco (1986) commented on the contribution of various misfortunes to creativity:

Families of creative children generally evidence unusual features (Albert, 1971, 1980a, 1980b). For example, such families tend to experience a high rate of parental loss. . . The families of effective children, on the other hand, tend to fit a more conventional pattern of a nuclear family, with the parents existing together. . . Father-son relationships are especially tolerable and harmonious, compared with those of the families of creative children. . . The parents [of creative children] themselves often do not get along, and this, too, affects the level of conflict experienced. The creative child typically has more hostility to contend with than the equally bright but less creative child. (pp .339-40)

     Similar observations were made by Paley (1981) in a kindergarten. It is Wally, the black boy who lives in a home without a father, who is by far the most creative of Paley's students.

     On the other side, assistances are all kinds of friendly help from mother and father (or parent substitutes), other relatives, friends and teachers, schoolmates and playmates, neighbors, schools, youth organizations, libraries, village or city environment, stimulating jobs, commissions and patrons, and a lively economic/social/political/cultural environment. Other forms of assistance come from a medium to high cultural-socioeconomic status (e.g. Albert, 1983a; Simonton 1994), good medical care, and free time to pursue personal interests.
     Specifically on the assistance of a good socioeconomic status (SES), Albert (1983a) wrote: "Although one often hears or reads dramatic stories of the poverty-stricken child who becomes a great person, the evidence regarding the socioeconomic background of eminent persons--evidence from Galton (1869) through Cox (1926) to Roe (1951a, 1951b, 1953), MacKinnon (1963), and Oden (1968), up to more recent research of eminent persons (Simonton, 1975b; Zuckerman, 1977)--show that most eminent persons come from middle- or higher-placed families" (pp. 30-1). The importance of the assistance of a high SES has also been stressed by the medical sociologist Ann Hill Beuf in her book Beauty is the Beast: Appearance-impaired children in America:

High socio-economic status is a coping resource. The stigmatized person of means will be afforded more protection than the poorer one. . . Such a family will be less subject to teasing and discrimination, and thus to feeling of incompetence. No matter what the physical appearance, the child of a noble, religious leader, or wealthy businessperson has "borrowed prestige" derived from the parent's position in society and will be treated with the same respect" (1990, p. 22).

     In the opposite direction, a low SES will tragically increase the weight of other misfortunes, as discussed, for instance, by Elsa Ferri in her book Growing up in a One-Parent Family: a Long-Term Study of Child Development (1976), which studied in Great Britain a large number of children (selected only by their date of birth) who had lost one or both parents by the time they were seven or eleven. By choosing her subjects by their date of birth, Ferri had automatically a majority of low-SES people. With these children, the misfortune of early parental death was not only psychological but also financial. And in this condition, the misfortune of early parental death was just that: a misfortune with no redeeming grace. In Ferri's concluding words:

The results of the analyses carried out showed that, overall, children in one-parent families had a lower level of attainment in school and were less adjusted than their peers from unbroken homes. . . . Bringing up children single-handed is an arduous task, both physically and mentally. Help is needed, not only in providing for the family's material welfare which is so gravely threatened by the loss of a parent but also in offering guidance, reassurance and moral support to unsupported parents in their lonely role of bringing up children without another adult to share the responsibility. If such is not forthcoming, the strains and pressures on some lone parents may become so intolerable that they are finally forced to relinquish their burden, resulting in perhaps the worst of all possible outcomes--a no-parent family. (pp. 147, 149)

     So, clearly, a major misfortune M will be able to contribute to personality, creativity, and eminence only if it is grafted on a set of major assistances, i.e., if there is a high AxM.

Genetic endowment
     Many authors have stressed major genetic differences among siblings, not only for intelligence, health, strength, body control/coordination (so important for many professions), but also for temperaments (e.g. emotionality, activity, sociability; Buss & Plomin, 1984) and related attitudes. In this line of thought, Bloom (1982) stressed that the sibling who reached eminence frequently was not the most technically gifted, but the one most willing to apply himself or herself (and this willingness may have genetic roots like intelligence). Basically a high genetic endowment G, (e.g. for intelligence, temperament, goodwill, stamina, and persistence) is indispensable for life, especially for making a good use of both assistances and misfortunes of youth.
     Putting things together (and in advance of a detailed explanation of its working), a high GxAxM can be said to be the conditio sine qua non for steady high creativity and the derived eminence.

The High Creative Potential of the Challenged Personality

     Lack of regular scripts forces the challenged youths to build their own scripts, guided in this by their long ruminations on the causes of their specific misfortunes. And they do it, more than others, from books (often unconventional ones read at the light of their misfortune), from newspapers, magazines, and television. Lack of common scripts and their own unorthodox scripts provide them with different, often new and very modern points of view. They have creative insights by asking unorthodox questions, by questioning the "obvious," and from the clash of their individual scripts with those of society in what can be called a lifelong war of the scripts.
     These creative insights are syntheses, after the clash of theses and antitheses; they can be read as constructive resolutions of both sets of scripts (theirs and society's) which are "rotated" around a common point in something similar to the bisociative thinking of Koestler (1964, 1967), which obeys two different sets of rules, combining two hitherto unrelated cognitive matrices, and operating on several planes at once.

High Voltage, Divergent Thinking, Curiosity, Fighting Mood
     At the same time, their early misfortunes, and the early slight they received from schoolmates, playmates, authority figures (with whom they could rarely interact smoothly for lack of common scripts) make them particularly alert, hypersensitive, emotionally tense, so that many of their clashes of scripts take place at high voltage and bring forth creative resolutions in which the youth emerges victorious, even if only at the new all-encompassing game of which he or she has "discovered" the rules. At the same time, more than the others, these youths live in their fantasy, less to evade reality than to find those magic solutions which can put them ahead of the system.
     This same intensity, coupled with their paucity of socially prescribed scripts, and backed by sufficient assistances, transforms them into powerful divergent thinkers capable of rapidly and brilliantly connecting a first idea with a dozen others without feeling that they are infringing on deeply engraved taboos. Not having learned the standard script for a brick allows them to come with a hundred applications for it: metaphysical, artistic, military, comic. These same causes foster a permanent curiosity because they have not been told (or convinced) that we know everything or everything that is important to know, because they have not incorporated the party line.
     These people quite often create in a fighting mood. The clash of their scripts with those of society is both defense and attack as Picasso said of his art: "Painting is not made to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war, for attack and defense against the enemy" (quoted by Whitman, 1973, p. 46), and as said by Griffith (1994): "The intellectual life is essentially and constitutively agonistic. It progresses almost entirely by struggle, by challenge and response, by thesis and antithesis, by getting it wrong and then moving, always asymptotically, toward getting it right" (p. 31).
     Picasso's aims were razor-sharp: "I want to draw the mind in a direction it's not used to and wake it up. I want to help the viewer discover something he wouldn't have discovered without me. That's why I stress the dissimilarity, for example, between the left eye and the right eye. . . . So my purpose is to set things in movement, to provoke this movement by contradictory tensions, opposing forces" (quoted by Gilot & Lake, 1964, p.60).

Passion, drive, self-confidence
     Misfortunes, like physical infirmity or rootlessness, separate the challenged youths from their peers and often force on them periods of solitude that are spent reading, dreaming, and thinking of their misfortunes and of ways to redress matters. Throughout their lives, the challenged personalities know that they do not belong to the pack, and that other people call them into question. Challenged personalities must prove themselves through creativity and leadership. Only through their work can they justify, to themselves and to others, their being different and their independence. In the words of papa Mozart: "I can easily believe that the court parasites will look askance at you. . ," and in the words of his son: "They think that because I am small and younger that there can be nothing great and old in me. But they shall soon find out" (quoted by Kerst, 1965, pp. 50, 55).

Self-education, noblesse oblige
     The creativity of the challenged personalities is not only the result of the clash of their different scripts with those of society around, but it is also the result of the derived self-education in probing the how and why of these harsh encounters. Often they discovered that things were not as people said they were. Often they were proven right. Thus there grew, in each of them, an a priori de omnibus dubitandum compensated by a strong faith in themselves: less for being always right, but for knowing the way toward the truth. This process develops self-confidence, a high vision of self, a lifelong sense of noblesse oblige, and a drive to create (also as a means to justify their being different from others).

Experiential Intelligence, Homework
     Seen from the point of view of Sternberg's (1988) triarchic mind theory, the challenged personalities have hypertrophied their "experiential intelligence": they have become addicted to relating the new external things to their own experience, to their own knowledge, to their own scripts, to their past clashes with the others. For them, the "tradition, tradition!" so much praised in the prologue of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, based on Sholom Aleichem's stories, becomes "my readings, my experience, my thoughts!" Having read so extensively and intensely, they built for themselves a vast foundation upon which to put at work their experiential/creative intelligence. For instance, "the choice of Beaumarchais's comedy Le Marriage de Figaro as a subject for operatic treatment was deliberately made by Mozart himself" (Jahn, 1900, III, p. 72)--and proposed to the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte--well knowing that he "was taking something of a risk [of antagonizing his aristocratic patrons] to set the play to music" (Solomon, 1995, p. 303). The high and intense creative urge to compose came to Mozart from his reservoir of scripts, of readings and deeply felt experiences, including, especially for the music for this opera, from the recollection of the abuses he had suffered from the prince-archbishop of Salzburg and his court-chamberlain Count Arco, and from empress Maria Theresa, as noted by Solomon (1995):

Feelings of betrayal, victimization, and jealousy surface and fantasies of revenge emerge as we watch and listen, transforming Figaro from the jovial servant into a single-minded pursuer of justice. . . . Figaro, Masetto, Leporello, and Monostatos are driven by fantasies of retribution. Even Susanna, says, 'I won't move a step from here, yet I'll have my revenge.' (pp. 507, 513, 514)

     Still there was an evolution, and his next question was "How do we make things right?" So, after the fantasies of retribution of Figaro and Don Giovanni, and his mockery of human weakness in Cosi fan tutte, came his enlightened Masonic Magic Flute and, at the end, his resigned Requiem. Each of these works was a passionate developmental creative encounter of Mozart's scripts with those of the world around him.
     Also, his scripts and training in the war of the scripts were psychologically, socially, culturally, and musically enriched by his continued studies (e.g., those of Bach's music, in 1782, when he applied himself thoroughly by arranging, for string trio, four fugues from Bach's Well Tempered Clavier and the Art of the Fugue). Mozart was very proud of his serious homework, as when he told conductor Kucharz who was leading the rehearsal for Don Giovanni in Prague:

I have spared neither care nor labor to produce something excellent for Prague. Moreover it is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied." (quoted by Kerst, 1965, p. 6)

     More even than the serious dedicated personalities, the challenged ones work hard, driven by their thirst for valid recognition, for a full cleansing of the old challenge--in its original meaning of "accusation, claim, dispute" (the French word calonge), and of "false accusation" (the Latin word calumnia)--which surrounds them since their youth, because of their being different, less social, and taken by their own ideas. Therefore, they tend to work hard to be able to ask, with confidence, like Einstein in later years: "A thought that sometimes makes me hazy, am I--or are the others crazy?" (quoted by Koestler, 1964, p. 146).

As Superresilient Kids
     One way to feel more comfortable with the GAM theory, is to relate it to the studies of the resilient children (e.g. by Garmezy, 1985; Werner, 1989; Werner & Smith, 1982), and specifically to think of the challenged personalities as having been superresilient kids in the midst of adversities. Indeed, the results of the research in this field stress that the "two most widely reported predictors of resilience appear to be relationships with caring prosocial adults [assistances] and good intellectual functioning [related to the genetic endowment] . . . More intelligent children may solve problems or protect themselves better; they may attract the interest of teachers" (Masten & Coatsworth, 1998, pp. 212-213).

Few of Them
     There are relatively few highly creative challenged personalities because, while major misfortunes of youth are common, they are not common in combination with quality assistances, a good genetic endowment, a challenging DP, and fit, pruning and luck. It is this rare combination which has the best potential for creativity and leadership. Indeed, many adult challenged personalities are not creative for lack of “fit”, lack of “pruning” or bad luck.

     Fit: One may have a genetic talent for music and even quality musical assistance but live in a place or time (e.g., during a war) with no interest in or possibilities for music; one may be a military genius in nuce, but not born an aristocrat when that was a precondition for being a military commander.

     Pruning refers to all kinds of limitations (imposed from the outside, or deliberately chosen through self-discipline) that eliminate or forbid diversions, lateral careers, promotions, and lateral successes. Shortage of pruning is probably one of the main causes for the lack of sustained creativity by both challenged and dedicated persons.

     Bad Luck can be a prolonged sickness, a debilitating accident, poverty, or “missing the boat”, e.g., working hard at a discovery but being a few years behind a capable competitor; it can be a distracting marriage or love affair, or early death.

1 Obviously this formula is only indicative: a reminder of the importance of each of these. The multiplicative "x" is used here instead of the additive "+", to stress both their integrative power, and that a too low level of G or A will endanger the whole. However, neither term should be extreme: too much G may render cocky and reduce the willingness to work hard; too much assistance may spoil, overcompensate the misfortunes, and reduce the willingness to learn, try, and persevere; too strong misfortunes cannot be compensated. Similar considerations apply to DP, Fit, Pruning, and Luck.
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