When it comes to getting creative work done, sometimes your brain needs to shut out external information in order to focus.
This is especially true for information which your brain previously noticed but deemed unimportant, and so begins to ignore. Examples of this include you not seeing the outline of your nose in front of your eyes, not feeling the weight of your clothes on your skin or not noticing the sound of the airconditioning in the room.
However, this filtering of information may also be making you less creative.
Humans have an ability called latent inhibition. This is the ability to ignore stimuli previously experienced as irrelevant. The higher your latent inhibition, the less you will notice “irrelevant” information or experiences around you. Or potentially even irrelevant thoughts in your mind. Higher levels of latent inhibition are more associated with being able to focus on the task in front of you and not be distracted.
Interestingly, lower levels of latent inhibition were previously associated with schizophrenia, people not being able to filter out irrelevant voices and thoughts.
But recent research has also shown that lower levels of latent inhibition are also related to higher creativity.
Recent research has shown that people with lower levels of latent inhibition performed better on tests which measure creativity.
The researchers hypothesise that the reason for this effect is that when the brain is less able to filter out information, more information is present in the mind and the ability to form associations to seemingly irrelevant information is expanded. Creativity is after all based on the combination of existing knowledge in new ways.
Schoolchildren aged 9 – 12 have shown a particularly strong link between lower levels of latent inhibition, associated as being less able to focus, and being more creative.
And lower levels of latent inhibition have been seen more frequently in people with a higher Openness to New Experiences, the key personality type associated with creativity.
This effect is especially true in individuals who are both intelligent and also have lower latent inhibition.
So while sometimes it might be good to be able to focus, especially when you are using convergent thinking to try and improve and progress a creative project, there may be other times when you are trying to come up with more original and divergent ideas where you can allow yourself to be distracted by some seemingly irrelevant details around you.
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