Being more creative may be as easy as pretending you are. Creativity, that abstract muse, is increasingly thought of as essential not just to artistic pursuits but also to business success. Who doesn’t want to be more creative? Or, conversely, who wants to be more formulaic and rote?
A new study by researchers at the University of Maryland indicates that, much like how stereotypes about women being bad at math can lead to women performing worse on math tests, treating yourself like a stereotypical creative genius can lead to more creative thinking. In two different experiments detailed in PLOS ONE, the researchers primed more than 200 undergrads majoring in several different forms of art or science to imagine themselves as either a stereotypically creative professional (“an eccentric poet”) or a stereotypically stodgy one (“a rigid librarian”). The students then completed the Uses of Objects Task, a standard psychology test to measure creativity (as you might guess, you brainstorm various uses of objects). A control group completed the task without being primed to imagine themselves as having any specific characteristics or jobs.
The researchers found that the ability to think outside the box isn’t a static personality trait. It’s malleable, and influenced by stereotypes. Students who imagined themselves as eccentric poets were able to think of more (and more original) uses for objects like bricks than students in the control group. Students who imagined themselves as rigid librarians came up with significantly fewer creative uses than the control group. Not only did thinking of themselves as eccentric give students a creative boost, but thinking of themselves as rigid became an impediment to creativity.
What a good excuse to declare yourself an artist and act super wacky.
[h/t Pacific Standard]