Psychopaths are sprinkled throughout pop culture, acting as some of our favorite villains in movies and television. There are certainly enough stereotypes surrounding this group of people, but it can be difficult for researchers to determine what’s real — there are no neurological markers that indicate someone lacks normal human empathy. A new study by researchers at De La Salle University in the Philippines suggests those with psychopathic tendencies are often very creative, suggesting the ability to think boldly and ruthlessly can help with the development of great ideas.

“We argue that emotional disinhibition, in the form of psychopathic boldness, is actually integral to some creative personalities and functionally related to the creative process,” the researchers wrote.

In controlled quantities, psychopathy can be a good thing. Numerous studies have shown a lack of empathy can be advantageous in the business world. Interestingly, the new study shows that uninhibited psychopathy can boost the creative spark, something different from carefully applied Machiavellian plans.

The team had 503 participants take a survey to determine their dark triad score — how narcissistic, psychopathic, and Machiavellian they were. The test included statements like “payback needs to be quick and nasty,” and “I have used manipulation to get my way.” Those who agreed with these statements ranked highly on the psychopathic metric.

In the second part of the study, the scientists questioned participants about 10 different creative areas, including visual arts, dancing, scientific discovery, and culinary arts. Besides listing their activities, participants also ranked their level of achievement in the creative pursuit, ranging from beginner, to taking lessons, to having their work appear in national publications. The scientists ran the creative achievement scores against the dark triad scores for comparison.

High psychopathic scores correlated strongly with high creative achievement scores. Narcissism was associated with high creative achievement scores as well, but the researchers noted that narcissistic people would be likely to self-enhance, meaning they would lie about their achievements. For this reason, they considered the association with psychopathy more robust.

The researchers repeated the experiment with an additional test to determine what kind of psychopathic traits those with high creativity scores had. Those who were gifted creatively were often bold, meaning they feared and stressed little, and emotionally disinhibited — they frequently disregarded social conventions and struggled with self-control.

In addition to suggesting that a bold, uninhibited approach may be best for creative thinking, the research provides more evidence that psychopaths shouldn’t necessarily be marginalized.

“It could turn out that the price of human discovery, whether we like it or not, is to give the trickster more credit,” the writers conclude.

Source: Galang A, Castelo V, Santos L, Perlas C, Angeles M. Investigating the Prosocial Psychopath Model of the Creative Personality: Evidence from Traits and Psychophysiology. Personality and Individual Differences. 2016