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Experience with different cultures may boost creativity

June 30, 2010
Courtesy of SAGE Publications
and World Science staff

Cre­ati­vity can be en­hanced by ex­pe­ri­encing cul­tures dif­fer­ent from one’s own, ac­cord­ing to new re­search. 

Py­chol­o­gists stud­ied stu­dents who had lived abroad and those who had­n’t, test­ing them on as­pects of cre­ati­vity. Com­pared to a group that had­n’t ex­pe­ri­enced a dif­fer­ent cul­ture, par­ti­ci­pants in the dif­fer­ent cul­ture group pro­vid­ed more ev­i­dence of cre­ati­vity in var­i­ous stand­ard tests of the trait, re­search­ers said.

The re­sults sug­gest mul­ti­cul­tur­al learn­ing is a crit­i­cal com­po­nent of the adapta­t­ion pro­cess, act­ing as a cre­ati­vity cat­a­lyst, ac­cord­ing to the in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

The re­search­ers said the key to the en­hanced cre­ati­vity was re­lat­ed to the stu­dents’ open-mind­ed ap­proach in adapting to the new cul­ture. In a glob­al world, where more peo­ple are able to ac­quire mul­ti­cul­tur­al ex­pe­ri­ences than ev­er, the re­search, they said, in­di­cates liv­ing abroad can be even more ben­e­fi­cial than pre­vi­ously thought.

The findings, by re­search­ers with IN­SEAD, a busi­ness school with cam­pus­es in Sin­ga­pore, Abu Dhabi and Fon­taine­bleau, France, and with North­west­ern Uni­vers­ity in Il­li­nois, is pub­lished in the jour­nal Per­son­al­ity and So­cial Psy­chol­o­gy Bul­le­tin.

“Given the lit­er­a­ture on struc­tur­al changes in the brain that oc­cur dur­ing in­ten­sive learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, it would be worth­while to ex­plore wheth­er neu­ro­lo­g­i­cal changes oc­cur with­in the cre­ative pro­cess dur­ing in­ten­sive for­eign cul­ture ex­pe­ri­ences,” wrote the au­thors. “That can help paint a more nu­anced pic­ture of how for­eign cul­ture ex­pe­ri­ences may not only en­hance cre­ati­vity but al­so, per­haps lit­er­al­ly, as well as fig­ur­a­tive­, broad­en the mind.”


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Creativity can be enhanced by experiencing cultures different from one’s own, according to new research. Pychologists studied students who had lived abroad and those who hadn’t, testing them on aspects of creativity. Compared to a group that hadn’t experienced a different culture, participants in the different culture group provided more evidence of creativity in various standard tests of the trait, researchers said. The results suggest multicultural learning is a critical component of the adaptation process, acting as a creativity catalyst, according to the investigators. The researchers said the key to the enhanced creativity was related to the students’ open-minded approach in adapting to the new culture. In a global world, where more people are able to acquire multicultural experiences than ever before, the research, they said, indicates that living abroad can be even more beneficial than previously thought. The study, by researchers with INSEAD, a business school with campuses in Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Fontainebleau, France, and with Northwestern University in Illinois, is published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. “Given the literature on structural changes in the brain that occur during intensive learning experiences, it would be worthwhile to explore whether neurological changes occur within the creative process during intensive foreign culture experiences,” wrote the authors. “That can help paint a more nuanced picture of how foreign culture experiences may not only enhance creativity but also, perhaps literally, as well as figuratively, broaden the mind.”