Creative distance

Students apparently score better on a test of creative thinking if they’re told the questions were written 2000 miles away. Evidently the increased psychological distance expands the horizons of the possible. I wonder how different that is from, say, a painter stepping back to survey her work from afar before diving back in with the brushes.

Creativity is commonly thought of as a personality trait that resides within the individual. We count on creative people to produce the songs, movies, and books we love; to invent the new gadgets that can change our lives; and to discover the new scientific theories and philosophies that can change the way we view the world. Over the past several years, however, social psychologists have discovered that creativity is not only a characteristic of the individual, but may also change depending on the situation and context. The question, of course, is what those situations are: what makes us more creative at times and less creative at others?

One answer is psychological distance.  According to the construal level theory (CLT) of psychological distance, anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves falls into the “psychologically distant” category. It’s also possible to induce a state of “psychological distance” simply by changing the way we think about a particular problem, such as attempting to take another person’s perspective, or by thinking of the question as if it were unreal and unlikely. In this new paper, by Lile Jia and colleagues at Indiana University at Bloomington, scientists have demonstrated that increasing psychological distance so that a problem feels farther away can actually increase creativity.

from “An Easy Way to Increase Creativity,” by Oren Shapira and Nira Liberman, Scientific American, 21 July 2009 :: via

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