(p. C3) In a 2011 study led by the Dutch psychologist Simone Ritter and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers asked some subjects to make breakfast in the “wrong” order and others to perform the task in the conventional manner. Those in the first group–the ones engaged in a schema violation–consistently demonstrated more “cognitive flexibility,” a prerequisite for creative thinking.
. . .
Exceptionally creative people such as Curie and Freud possess many traits, of course, but their “openness to experience” is the most important, says the cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman of the University of Pennsylvania. That seems to hold for entire societies as well.
Consider a country like Japan, which has historically been among the world’s most closed societies. Examining the long stretch of time from 580 to 1939, Dean Simonton of the University of California, writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, compared Japan’s “extra cultural influx” (from immigration, travel abroad, etc.) in different eras with its output in such fields as medicine, philosophy, painting and literature. Dr. Simonton found a consistent correlation: the greater Japan’s openness, the greater its achievements.
It isn’t necessarily new ideas from the outside that directly drive innovation, Dr. Simonton argues. It’s simply their presence as a goad. Some people start to see the arbitrary nature of many of their own cultural habits and open their minds to new possibilities. Once you recognize that there is another way of doing X or thinking about Y, all sorts of new channels open to you, he says. “The awareness of cultural variety helps set the mind free,” he concludes.
History bears this out. In ancient Athens, foreigners known as metics (today we’d call them resident aliens) contributed mightily to the city-state’s brilliance. Renaissance Florence recruited the best and brightest from the crumbling Byzantine Empire. Even when the “extra cultural influx” arrives uninvited, as it did in India during the British Raj, creativity sometimes results. The intermingling of cultures sparked the “Bengal Renaissance” of the late 19th century.
For the full commentary, see:
ERIC WEINER. “The Secret of Immigrant Genius; Having your world turned upside down sparks creative thinking.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 16, 2016): C3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 15, 2016.)
The above commentary by Weiner is related to his book, which is:
Weiner, Eric. The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.
The paper mentioned above as co-authored by Ritter, is:
Ritter, Simone M., Rodica Ioana Damian, Dean Keith Simonton, Rick B. van Baaren, Madelijn Strick, Jeroen Derks, and Ap Dijksterhuis. “Diversifying Experiences Enhance Cognitive Flexibility.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48, no. 4 (July 2012): 961-64.
The paper mentioned above by Simonton on Japanese openness, is:
Simonton, Dean Keith. “Foreign Influence and National Achievement: The Impact of Open Milieus on Japanese Civilization.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 72, no. 1 (Jan. 1997): 86-94.