Living abroad makes you more creative? Some evidence.

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.

17 thoughts on “Living abroad makes you more creative? Some evidence.

  1. It would seem that living abroad does allow people to expand their horizons and assimilate new cultural experiences that they would not have normally experienced had they stayed “sedentary”.

    Oh, and for the little riddle, the prisoner would just slice the rope lengthwise to get 2 ropes of the same length but halved widths. This is then tied together to get the full rope.

  2. A great factor in creativity is looking at things in new ways. Living abroad allow people to expand their horizons and assimilate new cultural experiences. Adaptation while living abroad is key to enhanced creativity.

  3. Yes I think that living abroad stimulates creativity. It takes you “out of the box”. It takes you out of your comfort zones and what you are accustomed to and familiar with. It exposes you to new cultures and people who different ways of looking at things. These factors stimulate creativity

  4. It makes sense that when one gets off the “sight seeing bus” and integrates into the local culture, that the base of life experiences and learning will improve creative abilities and problem solving. Thanks!

  5. I agree that most creative people likes to go abroad because they believe there’s more in store for them in other countries to boost their level of creativity.

    The prisoner must have divided or cut the rope in half vertically and tied the two parts to be able for him to reach the ground and escape.

    Educational and interesting article. Great blog.:-)

  6. Im originally from mauritius and i lived in France and now in the uk. I personally think it’s the culture that we live is the one that motivate us. So if you stayed in different countries you will loads of new things and in the end these knowledge will help you in the creativity.

  7. I lived in the UK for 6 months. From my experience I can tell that living abroad, will not only stimulate your creativity, but also your self-confidence, self-awareness and persistence. Leaving your comfort zone forces you to work on yourself.

  8. I don’t think its the living abroad part, rather the fact you are in a new environment – new country, area, etc… either way, i guess you are still abroad!

  9. I think it truly depends why an individual is traveling abroad and what he expects out of that place ?

    For example, Steve Jobs traveled to India for several months to get spiritually enlightened and not to be creative.

  10. I think there are a lot of considerations when you consider the effects of living abroad and creativity is one of them. It gives you the ability to learn and with learning your thinking changes. A different culture can give you a new way of looking at a problem. Combined with what you know from your own culture you can achieve a solution that was not there for you before.

  11. I agree. Living abroad leads to a more creative thinking and a better creative performance. Especially the social abilties, the new language, the cultural aspects, the different climate, food and so on, will give you so many new impressions. It can be a challenge at the beginning, but it gives you such more back.
    Nonoy gave the answer to your question already. Thanks for the article!

  12. I guess creativity is about beeing open on new things. And going/living abroad is a new thing for everyone. You get a nice contrast and a different point of view for the world. Your mind gets reset and you are more impartial.

  13. I think it truly depends why an individual is traveling abroad and what he expects out of that place ?

    For example, Steve Jobs traveled to India for several months to get spiritually enlightened and not to be creative.

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