In my previous blog entry I posted a statement that ‘Living abroad makes you more creative’ asking whether it is Fact or Fiction.
Here is some evidence:
The statement that living abroad makes you more creative is a fact.
The argument that creativity is fostered by living abroad is not revolutionary.
However, you may argue that it is not living abroad that makes you more creative, it is just that people who are initially more creative choose to go abroad. This makes sense, as there is a body of research on creative personalities (e.g. Feist, 1998; Macrae & Costa 1987; Simonton, 2003) which states that such traits as risk-taking, energy, self-confidence, ambition, cognitive flexibility, and most importantly openness to change are known to predict creativity. The same traits may as well distinguish between expats and those that choose to stay at home.
Despite all that, there is a widespread stereotype of expatriate artists that reach their peak of creativity and produce their best masterpieces while living in a foreign country. Indeed, such notable figures as Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway or Sergei Prokofiev somewhat justify the stereotype and evoke the idea that multicultural experience links to creativity.
In 2008, the scholars Maddux, Adam, Galinsky, Leung and Chiu started to systematically research this topic. Over a period of three years and across different samples of European and American undergraduate and MBA students the researchers empirically tested whether living abroad leads to more creativity, which was measured in terms of various tasks such as flexible problem-solving, negotiations, word-completion, idea generation and literary writing. It is important to note that these studies controlled for differences in personality traits which eliminates the effect of creativity being a premise to going abroad.
The results indicate that multicultural experience indeed helps individuals approach tasks from different angles, obtain ideas from foreign cultures and think ’out of the box’ which ultimately enhances creativity. Based on their latest study Maddux and colleagues (2010) conclude that the important mechanism through which living abroad increases creativity is multicultural learning. More specifically, this learning experience facilitates flexibility of thoughts and ideas, increases the awareness of underlying connections and associations, and helps to overcome fixedness of one’s existing knowledge and experience barriers. In other words, the researchers believe that adaptation while living abroad is key to enhanced creativity.
In sum, being abroad does not make you create an artwork masterpiece, but under certain conditions, such as living, not just traveling abroad, and thorough integration into the local lifestyle and community, it may increase your creative performance and creative thinking within everyday life situations.
If you want to test your own level of creativity, consider the following problem:
A prisoner was attempting to escape from a tower. He found a rope in his cell that was half as long enough to permit him to reach the ground safely. He divided the rope in half, tied the two parts together, and escaped. How could he have done this?
Feist, G.J., 1998. A meta-analysis of the impact of personality on scientific and artistic creativity. Personality and Social Psychological Review, 2, 290–309.
Leung, K.Y., Maddux, W.W., Galinsky, A.D., and Chiu, C.Y.(2008). Multicultural experience enhances creativity: The when and how. American Psychologist, 63(3), 169-181.
McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. C., Jr. (1987). Validation of the five-factor model across instruments and observers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 81–90.
Maddux, W.W., Leung, K.Y., Chiu, C.Y., & Galinsky, A.D. (2009). Toward a more complete understanding of the link between multicultural experience and creativity. American Psychologist, 64(2), 156-158.
Maddux, W.W., Adam, H., & Galinsky, A.D. (2010). When in Rome…learn why the Romans do what they do: How multicultural learning experiences enhance creativity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(6), 731-741.
Simonton, D. K. (2003). Scientific creativity as constrained stochastic behavior: The integration of product, process, and person perspectives. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 475-494.