High creativity goes hand-in-hand with being easily distracted, a new study finds.
The study found that creative people find it particularly difficult to cut out noises like car horns, taps dripping or people talking outside.
Creative people have more ‘leaky’ sensory filters, which allows them to integrate ideas which they are not necessarily focusing on.
It may explain why many creative geniuses, like Marcel Proust and Anton Chekhov, were so easily distracted.
Famously, Proust lined the bedroom where he wrote with cork and used ear-stoppers to help him concentrate.
The study measured the creativity of 100 participants in two different ways.
In one test people were asked to finish a series of stories in a creative way.
People were deemed more creative if they came up with a greater number of endings and if the endings were particularly ingenious.
A second test asked them about their real-world creative achievements.
Then the researchers set about measuring electrical activity in the brain.
They were looking for an electrical response which is associated with sensory gating: the ability to automatically filter out unwanted information.
It turned out that higher real-world creativity was linked with an inability to filter out unwanted information.
In other words: real-world creativity was linked to being easily distracted.
The psychological test of creativity, however, was linked to being less easily distracted.
The results of the research likely reflect the fact that there are different types of creativity which are useful in different situations.
The study suggests, though, that in the real-world, there are advantages to being easily distracted.
Dr Darya Zabelina, the study’s first author, said:
“If funneled in the right direction, these sensitivities can make life more rich and meaningful, giving experiences more subtlety.”
The research is published in the journal Neuropsychogia (Zabelina et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Creativity image from Shutterstock