“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.” – Pablo Picasso
The idea that some people see more possibilities than others is central to the concept of creativity.
Psychologists often measure creativity with thinking tasks that require participants to generate as many uses as possible for mundane objects, such as a comb. Participants that can see numerous and diverse uses for a comb are rated as more creative than those who can only think of a few common uses, such as to comb hair.
Openness To Experience
Openness to experience, or openness, is the aspect of our personality that has been determined to drive our creativity. Of the five major personality traits, openness best predicts real-world creative achievements, and performance on divergent thinking tasks.
In their book, Wired To Create, authors Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire explain that the creativity of open people stems from a “drive for cognitive exploration of one’s inner and outer worlds”. This curiosity to examine things from all angles may lead people high in openness to see more than the average person, or as another research team put it, to discover “complex possibilities lying dormant in so-called ‘familiar’ environments”.
The research, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, suggests that open people don’t just bring a different perspective to things, they genuinely see things differently to the average individual.
The discovery prompted researchers to test if there was a correlation between their finding and the phenomenon in visual perception called binocular rivalry.
Binocular rivalry occurs when two different images are presented to each eye simultaneously, such as a red patch to the right eye and a green patch to the left eye.
For the participant, the images appear to flip intermittently revealing only the green patch in one moment, and only the red patch the next – with each stimulus appearing to rival the other.
Intriguingly, participants in binocular rivalry studies occasionally see a fused or scrambled combination of both images (as shown in the middle frame, above).
These moments of “rivalry suppression”, when both images become consciously accessible at once, seem almost like a “creative” solution to the problem presented by the two incompatible stimuli.
Across three experiments, it was found that open people saw the fused or scrambled images for longer durations than normal people, and that the time increased when the participant was experiencing a positive mood state similar to those that are known to boost creativity.
The findings demonstrate that creative tendencies of open people extend to basic visual perception, and suggest that creatives have fundamentally different visual experiences than the average person.
Seeing Things That Others Miss
Another perceptual phenomenon, inattentional blindness, occurs when people are so focused on one thing that they fail to see what else is happening around them.
Researchers famously demonstrated the perceptual glitch by showing participants a short video of people playing catch with a basketball, and asking them to track the total number of passes between the players wearing white.
Give it a try before continuing on….
What was your total?
Did the gorilla catch a pass?
More importantly, did you see the gorilla? Don’t feel bad if not, roughly half of the 192 participants in the original study missed it too.
A recent follow-up determined that susceptibility to inattentional blindness is dependent on personality, with open people being more likely to see the gorilla in the video clip.
Opening The Mind
Mounting evidence suggests that the personality is malleable, and that increases in openness have been observed in cognitive training interventions and with new experiences, such as travel.
While there are many benefits to openness, it is important to note that there are negatives as well, and that it has been linked to aspects of mental illness, such as proneness to hallucination.
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