Artists, musicians, fashion designers, photographers, novelists … there are so many different types of “creatives” out there. The arts elicit such admiration around the world from the general public for the ability to create something so brilliant, yet so intrinsic. As outsiders, people often seem baffled. How did they do that? I can’t do that.
But that is exactly what creativity is: seeing the possibilities, and turning them into art. While some see something and ask how it came to be, creatives spend their time seeing what could be.
Psychologists have long been trying to measure creativity, often doing so by using divergent thinking tasks, in which you must create as many uses as possible for mundane objects.
It is those who can see numerous and diverse objects that are considered more creative than those who can only see a few common things.
For instance, I remember taking a creativity test in elementary school. One question showed an image of a girl too short to reach the shade on a door window to pull it down. The question asked me to draw as many solutions as possible for the little girl to reach the shade. Students drew rockets on the bottom of the girl’s feet, springs, and so on. Others simply drew a chair.
According to science, among the five major personality traits we behold, there is one that drives our creativity. This is called openness to experience, or openness. Openness is believed to be the best predictor of performance on divergent thinking tasks. It also predicts real-world creative achievements, and engagement in everyday creative pursuits.
While some people are fine assuming a chair is just a chair, or a rocket can only be used for space, others have an innate curiosity that drives them to examine things from all angles, resulting in higher openness.
Regarding research on the matter, Luke Smillie, Senior Lecturer in Personality Psychology, University of Melbourne and Anna Antinori, PhD candidate, University of Melbourne, conducted a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality that found open people, along with bringing a different perspective to things, also genuinely see things differently than the average individual.
Of their study, the team said:
We wanted to test whether openness is linked to a phenomenon in visual perception called binocular rivalry. This 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 observer, the images seem to flip intermittently from one to the other. At one moment only the green patch is perceived, and at the next moment only the red patch – each stimulus appearing to rival the other.
Participants in binocular rivalry studies sometimes see a fused of scrambled combination of both images, like the middle one above, which, according to this study’s authors, can be seen as sort of a creative solution to the problem.
Across three experiments, we found that open people saw the fused or scrambled images for longer periods than the average person. Furthermore, they reported seeing this for even longer when experiencing a positive mood state similar to those that are known to boost creativity.
Our findings suggest that the creative tendencies of open people extend all the way down to basic visual perception. Open people may have fundamentally different visual experiences to the average person.
Perhaps it’s frustrating to think “creatives” see the world “better” than a “normal” person, but there’s also a downside. Some people with heightened openness have issues with mental illness, including proneness to hallucination.
But also, there’s no such thing as better. Every perspective is beautiful, no matter the amount of openness involved. Regardless, it is interesting to note that there is science behind why some people can create things that others simply cannot.