Being able to imagine situations that are far away in time and space is a sign that you are highly creative, research finds.
Creative people are better able to think 500 years into the future, transcending the here and now.
Surprisingly, creative experts use a totally different part of the brain to think beyond the present, in comparison to less creative people.
Dr Meghan L. Meyer, the study’s first author, said:
“For most people, it is difficult to transcend the here and now, but creative experts are able to imagine distal experiences much more vividly than others.
They draw on a neural mechanism, which other experts may not be able to engage as easily for this type of thinking.”
The conclusions come from a series of three studies.
In one study, 300 people were asked to “imagine what the world will be like in 500 years”, along with other similar exercises.
The results showed that more creative people were better at this imaginative exercise.
A second study compared creative and non-creative professionals.
This found that creative professionals were better at imagining the future.
Dr Meyer explained:
“Creative experts and control participants showed the same level of career success.
Yet, the creative experts demonstrated greater distal imagination.
The results illustrate that it’s the creative pursuits and not just career success, which appears to enhance transcending the here and now.”
A third study carried out scans to look at what happens in the brain when creative experts imagine a far-off future.
For distant events, experts used the dorsal medial default network, which non-experts did not use.
This area of the brain is important for empathy and thinking about other people.
Dr Meyer said:
“Many of the problems facing our society today, whether it be identifying solutions to address climate change or working with others who may have different political views, are essentially challenges that require distal thinking.
They demand that you get outside of your present point of view and try to think about how things could be different from your immediate experience.
Identifying the underlying neural mechanisms associated with this type of imagination will hopefully help us better understand the key ingredients that may be needed to solve these kinds of complex, societal problems.”