Living Abroad Enhances Creativity

Could living abroad, (or more specifically, adapting to a foreign culture) enhance creativity? Researchers conducting a series of novel and interesting tests (including the candle box functional fixedness test) are starting to suggest so.

Across these three studies, the association between foreign living and creativity held even after controlling for personality variables. In other words it wasn’t just that time abroad was a marker for having a creative personality. Another consistent finding was that travelling abroad had no association with creativity – only living abroad did. […]

The researchers cautioned that longitudinal research is needed to more fully test whether and how living abroad is linked with enhanced creativity, but they said their findings made a good start. “It may be that those critical months or years of turning cultural bewilderment into concrete understanding may instill [creativity]”. 

Update: The Economist has their own take on the research.



3 responses to “Living Abroad Enhances Creativity”

  1. Paul

    Sounds far more likely that there is a correlation but no causation.

    For example, there is a correlation between going to university and earning more money than a non-graduate, but only because smart people tend to do both.

    Could it therefore be that creative people have a higher tendency to adapt to living abroad better?

  2. Steve

    I think this might be deeply flawed. I don’t know too much about the experiment but it seems the results they got were, students who had lived abroad were more creative at solving problems like affixing a candle to a wall without the wax spilling.

    Frankly, uncreative people are scared of the idea of moving abroad. Too much change, risk and potential disaster. Creative people love that kind of thing. So what Paul said above, more creative people do better abroad.

    Of course, if someone who is scared of moving abroad was forced to, or forced themselves to, they might well become more creative after hopefully realising that it’s not so bad after all!

  3. Both,

    This is indeed the central problem with the study; creativity and living abroad are currently only ‘linked’. Whether that turns our to be a correlative or causative link is still to be discovered.

    I’m more interested in how the researchers “[controlled] for personality variables” as this could negate a number of arguments (if done correctly).

    I definitely look forward to hearing more about this topic!