When it comes to creativity, generating ideas is only one part of the process.
You also need to execute the ideas.
And once they are executed, they usually need to be seen or evaluated by an audience.
But can the audience evaluate the idea differently based on who the creator is?
Yes, and the stereotype of what a creative person “should” look or behave like can have a powerful influence on how the idea they create is perceived.
One of the earliest examples of this comes from 1929, when Farnsworth and Beaumont showed that people would rate art more highly if they were told the painter was a great master, compared to being told the same painting was done by a student or unknown artist.
More recently, there have been even more focused research studies about what sorts of people are considered creative.
For example, when presenting ideas, people who were more narcissistic had their ideas judged as more creative than people who were less narcissistic. The authors believe that this is because narcissists may be more enthusiastic in the way they describe their ideas.
But what about when the person being judged is not even in the same room and just being described? Can their personal characteristics be enough to have people judge them as either more or less creative?
One initial study of poetry in 2010 gave participants 60 poems for whom either black, white or crossover names for male and female authors were given. Here, participants did not give a strong preference to any of the stereotype skin colours or genders when it came to assessing the creativity and originality of the artwork, when they could not see the creators.
However, other studies have looked at the impact of seeing a person and assessing their ideas. When pitching ideas, research has clearly shown that attractive men have a significant statistical advantage in having their ideas well received, compared to women and less attractive men.
The gender bias is even more pronounced when assessing the creativity of ideas produced. An important 2015 set of experiments on the Gender Bias in the Attribution of Creativity found that when comparing the creativity of men and women, that “outside the box” creativity is more strongly associated with stereotypically masculine characteristics (e.g., daring and self-reliance) than with stereotypically feminine characteristics (e.g., cooperativeness and supportiveness). Additionally, the series of experiments demonstrated that:
- a man is ascribed more creativity than a woman when they produce identical output
- men’s ideas are evaluated as more ingenious than women’s ideas
- female executives are stereotyped as less innovative than their male counterparts when evaluated by their supervisors
- stereotypically masculine behavior enhances a man’s perceived creativity, whereas identical behavior does not enhance a woman’s perceived creativity
So there is definitely a gender bias stereotype when it comes to creativity.
What about how a person behaves? Two sets of studies in 2019 and 2021 suggest that people behaving in an independent manner (like working or eating lunch alone rather than with others) were likely to be judged as more creative than more collaborative people.
This likely goes back to the “Lone Genius” myth, which has long since been discredited.
Beliefs and Upbringing
Finally, in a preview of an article currently in peer review by Prof Jack Goncalo called “STEREOTYPED AS A CREATIVE: CAN A CREATOR’S PERSONAL NARRATIVE BIAS IDEA EVALUATION?”, we see perhaps our clearest indication yet of what people think a creative person should look like.
Prof Goncalo and his team looked at the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to find the types of personal characteristics which people describe themselves as in their “About Me / Bio” section next to their idea. From this, Goncalo was able to find descriptions of people’s political beliefs, religions and where they live / grew up, and devised a series of experiments where combinations of these characteristics were assessed against either highly creative or not so creative product ideas.
Since the study was based in the USA, they came up with a number of characteristics which were first tested individually, and then combined:
- Place of Birth: Options: East Coast (e.g. New York, Boston), West Coast (e.g. Los Angeles, San Fransisco), Midwest (e.g. Indianapolis, Cleveland), or a control group
- Religion: Options: Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish or a control group
- Political views: Conservative, Democratic, Independent or no political affiliation
Finally, online participants were asked to assess imaginary inventions / products from a fictional person where the only description which changed was the combinations of these characteristics.
The results showed that the characteristics for the person where participants judged the idea to be most creative were:
- From: East Cost or West Coast
- Religion: Buddhist
- Political Views: Independent
The least creative characteristics were:
- From the Midwest
- Religion: Christian, Muslim or Jewish, so any religion other than Buddhism
- Political Views: Conservative
So it appears that the stereotype of a creative person is someone from a big coastal city, who does not believe in politics and is Buddhist or not religious. That sounds like a lot of hipsters I know.
So what is the creative stereotype?
Taking all of these studies into consideration, it is clear that there is a creative stereotype bias. Society as a whole, especially in western societies, has a view on what a “creative person” should look like, what they believe in and how they behave.
After all, if you look at places that are known as havens of creativity, like Silicon Valley or Hollywood, it is often filled with young, entrepreneurial, independent and often very attractive people.
So if we were to create the ultimate stereotype of what a creative person should be, it would be a: young, attractive, confident, fiercely independent man who grew up in a coastal city, does not believe strongly in politics and is not religious.
But if you do not fit that stereotype, don’t worry. Just because society has a preconceived notion of what a creative person looks like, that does not mean that it is accurate.
After all, everyone is creative, no matter what they look like or where they came from.
It is just a shame that some people may have additional hurdles to overcome before their ideas are noticed by others.
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