Advertising Is the Least Sexy Creative Career

Photo: AMC

People like to tell themselves they’re attracted to creative types, but what most of us really mean by this is that we find a very specific kind of creativity attractive — the artistic kind, mostly, that you associate with photographers and musicians. Less attractive, apparently, are the people who’ve managed to use their creative instincts to make money or to do boring things like science, according to a new study led by psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman of the University of Pennsylvania. 

Kaufman led a team that designed what they called a Creative Behavior Mating Preferences Checklist, which asked people to rate how attractive they found 43 different creative behaviors. (You can download a copy of the paper from Kaufman’s website, if you’re curious.) Let’s look at the least attractive creative activities first, which Kaufman wrote about in a Scientific American post this week. They’re more interesting:

  1. Creating ad campaigns.
  2. Interior decorating.
  3. Writing an original computer program.
  4. Making websites.
  5. Gardening.
  6. Presenting a science or math paper.
  7. Exterior decorating.
  8. Using math in some novel way to solve a problem.  
  9. Developing a new scientific experimental design.
  10. Participating in a drama production

The sexiest ways to be creative, on the other hand, are mostly what you’d guess, though I’m mildly surprised and amused to see comedians make the cut; aren’t comedians supposed to be stereotypically kind of schlubby? (Though maybe this is because I just watched the Nick Offerman Netflix special; he starts the show shirtless and reminiscing about the many barbecued meats and carb-y sides like mac and cheese he’d just eaten.) Also, I don’t know that I would’ve considered athleticism to be a form of creativity.

Anyway, here they are:

  1. Playing sports.
  2. Taking a romantic, spontaneous road trip.
  3. Recording music.
  4. Making a clever remark.
  5. Writing music.
  6. Playing in a band.
  7. Taking artistic photos.
  8. Being a comedy performer.
  9. Having a unique sense of style.
  10. Writing poetry.

Kaufman explains his findings this way:

[O]rnamental/aesthetic forms of creativity — which play on our evolved perceptual functions and evoke strong emotions in the perceiver– were shaped primarily by sexual selection pressures and are therefore more likely to receive a sexual response than applied/technological forms of creativity.”

Because the kind of creative work done in advertising — and computer programming and most of the other least attractive creative activities — has a practical application (to sell stuff), it doesn’t inspire as strong of an emotional response as, say, writing a poem for the hell of it, Kaufman argues.

That said, there are some nuances here. For example, Kaufman and his team also surveyed the study volunteers on their personalities and intelligence, and they found that the more highly intelligent a person was, the sexier he or she found the applied/technical forms of creativity. So fear not if your own particular brand of creativity was relegated to the bottom of the list; there’s someone out there for everyone. 

Advertising Is the Least Sexy Creative Career