Become creative: Leave the country!

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

William Maddux

William Maddux

I’ve posted quite a bit about creativity, which fascinates me, but it had never occurred to me, until now, that living abroad could enhance it!

So it does, according to two psychologists: William Maddux and Adam Galinsky.

A colleague of mine wrote about their research in The Economist, and others have reported on it before.

Living abroad (as opposed to just traveling, say) makes people more open to new experiences, among other things, Maddux and Galinsky found. That in turn makes people more creative.

I’m thrilled to hear this, of course, because I have been a permanent expat almost all my life.

Other expats:

Indeed, let me add one more:

Hannibal: born in Tunisia; grew up in Spain; succeeded in France, Switzerland and Italy; failed in Tunisia; worked in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and Armenia; killed himself in Turkey. Other expats may skip the last step.

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8 thoughts on “Become creative: Leave the country!

  1. On the other hand, Jane Austin, Willie Shakespeare, and Marcel Proust (he was in bed all the time) appear never to have left home, or at least never far from it.

    So, what is one to think?

    • For Proust: It seems to help tremendously to be permanently suffering or, at least in a previous age, to be homosexual. Both conditions might be considered “expat-like” experiences (see Frida Kahlo re suffering.)

      Shakespeare is more challenging. Would you agree to conspire in spreading a rumor that he was, in fact, secretly French?

    • “……..Would you agree to conspire in spreading a rumor that he was, in fact, secretly French……..?”

      Since it’s more likely that it was Francis Bacon, rather than Shakespeare, who wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare (conventional history always gets things wrong, didn’t you know?), it’s not therefore necessary to spread a rumour that Shakespeare was secretly French, or secretly anything else.

      Given that Francis Bacon as a young man, lived abroad (was an ex-pat) in France for three years, which gave him the unique insights and wisdom contained in “Shakespeare’s” plays; and that only someone called Bacon could invent a character called HAMlet, it should put to rest all doubts that Francis Bacon was the genius who wrote “Shakespeare’s” plays.

    • That’s brilliant. Somerset Maugham, E.M. Forster, Evelyn Waugh (all my favs). Oscar Wilde. Which brings up another expat experience – prison.

  2. Haven’t looked at the details – but hard to see how you would separate cause and effect? The kind of folks who emigrate are apriori seekers of new experiences.

    On further neurological benefits of new experiences, here is a relevant para:

    As Jonah Lehrer reports in his intriguing book Proust Was a Neuroscientist, bird brains have also proved crucial in groundbreaking brain science. Neuro-anatomists first directly observed the once-thought impossible, the formation of new brain cells in bird brains. In a wonderful connection with Charles Darwin’s la-la theory (that language evolved from bird song) it seems that to sing their complex melodies, male birds need to make new brain cells every day. And this need is influenced by environmental factors. Birds stuck in sterile lab environments have no need to and don’t make new brain cells. This work has been replicated in primate brains and, by extension, applies to us. A whole new field of neurogenesis is emerging, and among its initial areas of interest is a new class of antidepressant drugs aimed at improving neurogenesis. It seems that new brain cells, some of which come from new experiences and needing to learn new things, can make us happier! We are built to be happier when we are stimulated neophiles.

  3. They appear to have disentangled cause and effect somehow. From The Economist piece:

    “To check that they had not merely discovered that creative people are more likely to choose to live abroad, Dr Maddux and Dr Galinsky identified and measured personality traits, such as openness to new experiences, that are known to predict creativity. They then used statistical controls to filter out such factors. Even after that had been done, the statistical relationship between living abroad and creativity remained, indicating that it is something from the experience of living in foreign parts that helps foster creativity.”

    “Statistical controls”. Hmm. I’m actually confused and curious now…

    Your phrase “the Stimulated Neophile” could be a blog or book title. Must commit to memory.

    • Imagine how I feel? This was the first thing I read in the Economist this week. I applaud the Sci/tech section. But, I go into the Sci/tech section like some people go after a crossword puzzle. For sport (and personal improvement) I ask, could I improve this article? I turned the page also thinking, hmmm. “They then used statistical controls..?” There are controls and there are statistics, and there is statistical process control. I think statistical control means something else.

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