Sublimation, culture, and creativity

Emily Kim, Veronika Zeppenfeld, Dov Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Combining insights from Freud and Weber, this article explores whether Protestants (vs. Catholics and Jews) are more likely to sublimate their taboo feelings and desires toward productive ends. In the Terman sample (Study 1), Protestant men and women who had sexual problems related to anxieties about taboos and depravity had greater creative accomplishments, as compared to those with sexual problems unrelated to such concerns and to those reporting no sexual problems. Two laboratory experiments (Studies 2 and 3) found that Protestants produced more creative artwork (sculptures, poems, collages, cartoon captions) when they were (a) primed with damnation-related words, (b) induced to feel unacceptable sexual desires, or (c) forced to suppress their anger. Activating anger or sexual attraction was not enough; it was the forbidden or suppressed nature of the emotion that gave the emotion its creative power. The studies provide possibly the first experimental evidence for sublimation and suggest a cultural psychological approach to defense mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)639-666
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • Creativity
  • Culture
  • Defense mechanisms
  • Religion
  • Sublimation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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