New Study Reveals Creative Genius is Linked to Being Easily Distracted


A new study released by Northwest University gives us a deeper insight into the underlying mechanisms of what drives creative genius, and it’s not exactly what many would have thought.

If you are someone who is easily distracted or someone who is really focused, you are going to really appreciate the new light this sheds on what’s going on behind the scenes of your mind.

When you decide to engage in a creative task, whether it’s painting, writing, singing, creating music, dancing, etc., there can often be a lot of things happening around you.

Maybe it’s your noisy neighbors, crying children, yard work outside, TV in the other room.  All of these are forms of stimuli that are interpreted by your senses.

Could these distractions be supportive of creativity itself !?

This new study suggests that highly-creative people have “leaky” sensory filters, which allows them to comprehend & integrate ideas which they aren’t necessarily trying to focus on.  They were able to test this by asking participants to give accounts of their real-world creations, and put them through a series of divergent thinking tests which test for creative cognition.

They were measuring electrical impulses in the brain associated with sensory gating, or how you automatically filter out unwanted information and stimuli. The study determined being highly distractible means you can put attention on a wider-focus or range of stimuli.

According to the original study : “Overall results suggest that leaky sensory gating may help people integrate ideas that are outside of focus of attention, leading to creativity in the real world. ”

Meaning that the very distracting things that are seemingly disruptive to your creativity, are only so disruptive because a highly-creative mind is designed not to block these things out, but rather use them to inform its creative process.  Getting distracted means you are taking in more and are able to spread your attention out to a wider range of sensory data.

Creative geniuses


Many famous geniuses, such as Darwin, Proust & Chekov have attested to being easily distracted.

One of the most influential novelists of the 20th century, Kafka once said, “I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’ — that wouldn’t be enough — but like a dead man.”

Have you ever found that no matter how hard you try to turn off distractions and tune them out, they have a way of creeping in? Especially, when you are trying to focus on something.

You aren’t alone. In fact, other creative geniuses have learned to use this chaos and distraction to support their creativity, and the study gives us deeper insight into how that’s the case.

Think painter at a concert, the musicians on stage, or even how I find comfort in writing this very blog from a hectic coffee shop.

But real-world creativity is only half of the puzzle, as the other form of creativity is divergent thinking, which is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.

How to deal with distractions


For practicing divergent thinking effectively, you need to be able to turn off competing sensory information and focus in. So, when you try to creatively come up with ideas by focusing on many possibilities, to do that effectively requires uninterrupted focus.

Turn off the television, and turn off any music.  The brain will be forced to block out sounds like that, which expels mental energy and makes you much more prone to distraction.

While many people have attested to feeling like their distractions keep them from getting anything done, what they perhaps overlook is that the ability to be distracted itself is a creative act. One then we can use for our betterment rather than detriment.

It still seems, however, that distractions need to managed. The study also doesn’t talk about what the threshold is of when distractions become too much and overwhelm real-world creativity, so we hope to learn more about that soon.

And, of course, be easy on yourself. Because if you are a highly-distractible person, you are already wired for creative genius. Now, it’s time to get focused and make something of it.

To conclude, I’m curious…Did you make it through reading this whole blog without getting distracted?

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