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.
Other 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 its needs. Through psychological
testing, the researchers showed that creative
individuals are much more likely to have low levels
of latent inhibition.
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.
"The 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 possibilities."
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. They 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
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.
Peterson 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."
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 under others."
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.
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.
story has been adapted from a news release issued
by University Of Toronto