Can studying psychology help your creative career?

If you’re craving new insight into your creativity or want to pursue cross-disciplinary knowledge, maybe psychology is for you.
Can studying psychology help your creative career?

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Interdisciplinary practices often leads to innovation and discovery. In the creative industries, we see it when an opera company incorporates 3D projections into their performances, or when an installation melds cinema and photography. But what about a discipline that traditionally falls outside the purview of the creative arts? 

For Nathan Leigh Jones, who works as a voiceover artist and musician, it was a psychology degree from Swinburne University of Technology that pushed his creativity in new and unanticipated directions. 

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‘Incorporating [psychology] into music and communication is what really excites me,’ he said.

‘When you start psychology they put you on the intro subjects — Psychology 100 and Psychology 101 — and in those two subjects you cover everything. It is like a crash course on life. You learn everything from the way we hear and think to how we process it all.’

Nathan’s decision to study online through Open Universities Australia (OUA) allowed him to complete the same Bachelor of Behavioural Studies (Psychology) delivered to on-campus students at Swinburne, giving him the flexibility to keep working wherever he needed to, including a stint in New York City. 

‘It has been a wonderful few years of changing things, not just with study, but where I live and what I’m doing and just redefining a few things in my life. By travelling and taking my study with me via the internet, it has been wonderful to do my degree on my terms rather than having to be stuck on a campus and having that dictate my experience,’ he said. 

Turning from music to psychology wasn’t such a strange leap for Nathan. ‘It was a weird decision looking back on it. I have always been interested in music and creativity. Music for me is almost therapeutic by nature. When I listen to songs I get lost in the way melodies unfold and the way lyrics create a narrative. I’ve always written music and listened to it therapeutically, so studying human behaviour just seemed, for me at least, a logical progression,’ he explained.

Now he is working on various projects that combine his knowledge of social and behavioural psychology with music and voice. One of these examines how music, however subtly, affects a person’s emotions. 

‘I feel like we don’t give music, particularly popular music on the radio, as much attention as we need to, which is kind of ironic because we hear it everywhere. We don’t pay attention to the lyrics as much as we could. My theory is that lyrics matter — and obviously in some songs more than others — and my passion is diving into those lyrics to find out how we can harness the truth in those to help us live better lives,’ he explained. 

‘My passion is with a project at the moment that is essentially about curating songs, not by genre – whether it is pop or rock or dance – but based on themes, looking at character strength and positive psychology. Then we can create playlists like “bravery” or a playlist based on “forgiveness”. It’s about using the actual themes of the music to connect and remind us who our best selves actually are.’

A degree in psychology through OUA has done more than help Nathan explore the intersection of human behaviour, persuasion and music. It has also provided him with new insight into his own creativity and the creativity of others.

‘One of the things I learned quite early on when diving into psychology is there isn’t evidence to suggest that any one person is more creative than another. We all have equal space in the creativity game. What is different is how much time people set aside to be creative and the intention they bring to their creativity,’ he explained.

‘Previously if I wasn’t feeling it, I would blame the “Creative Gods” for being out of whack that day. But to be able to have that discipline to sit down and notice within myself all of these thoughts that were arising, to put them aside and just dive into my creativity has been really helpful.

‘It was wonderful to also learn about how humans behave and react, how we all have limited attention spans and we all process things differently, we all see things from different perspectives, we all have very different personalities and they vary in so many different ways. But just the very basic fact that when I show someone a song I have written I feel like I have a lot more compassion for people experiencing my art and not to read too much into their thinking or to judge them for how they react, but also more compassion for myself.’

To find out more about studying psychology through OUA, visit open.edu.au

Brooke Boland

Monday 16 October, 2017

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW.