Creative people more open to stimuli from environment
of Toronto news release
Psychologists from U of T and Harvard University have identified one of
the biological bases of creativity
The study in the September  issue of the Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology says the brains of creative people appear to be
more open to incoming stimuli from the surrounding environment.
people's brains might shut out this same information through a process
called "latent inhibition" - defined as an animal's unconscious
capacity to ignore stimuli that experience has shown are irrelevant to
psychological testing, the researchers showed that creative individuals
are much more likely to have low levels of latent inhibition.
"This means that creative individuals remain in contact with the extra
information constantly streaming in from the environment," says
co-author and U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson.
normal person classifies an object, and then forgets about it, even
though that object is much more complex and interesting than he or she
thinks. The creative person, by contrast, is always open to new
Previously, scientists have associated failure to screen out stimuli
with psychosis. However, Peterson and his co-researchers - lead author
and psychology lecturer Shelley Carson of Harvard University's Faculty
of Arts and Sciences and Harvard PhD candidate Daniel Higgins -
hypothesized that it might also contribute to original thinking,
especially when combined with high IQ.
administered tests of latent inhibition to Harvard undergraduates.
Those classified as eminent creative achievers - participants under age
21 who reported unusually high scores in a single area of creative
achievement - were seven times more likely to have low latent
The authors hypothesize that latent inhibition may be positive when
combined with high intelligence and good working memory - the capacity
to think about many things at once - but negative otherwise.
states: "If you are open to new information, new ideas, you better be
able to intelligently and carefully edit and choose. If you have 50
ideas, only two or three are likely to be good. You have to be able to
discriminate or you'll get swamped."
"Scientists have wondered for a long time why madness and creativity
seem linked," says Carson. "It appears likely that low levels of latent
inhibition and exceptional flexibility in thought might predispose to
mental illness under some conditions and to creative accomplishment
For example, during the early stages of diseases such as schizophrenia,
which are often accompanied by feelings of deep insight, mystical
knowledge and religious experience, chemical changes take place in
which latent inhibition disappears.
"We are very excited by the results of these studies," says Peterson.
"It appears that we have not only identified one of the biological
bases of creativity but have moved towards cracking an age-old mystery:
the relationship between genius, madness and the doors of perception."
This research was funded by the Stimson Fund and the Clark Fund at
Harvard University and by the Connaught Fund at U of T.
University of Toronto http://www.utoronto.ca/
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