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Creativity And Diversity: How Exposure To Different People Affects Our Thinking

Multicolored hands grasping each other.
Nick Shepherd
/
Getty Images/Ikon Images

There is great comfort in the familiar. It's one reason humans often flock to other people who share the same interests, laugh at the same jokes, hold the same political views. But familiar ground may not be the best place to cultivate creativity.

Social scientist Adam Galinsky has found that people who have deep relationships with someone from another country become more creative and score higher on routine creativity tests.

"There's something about deeply understanding and learning about another culture that's transformative," Adam says.

In one study, Adam and his colleagues tracked business school students during a 10-month MBA program. They tested the students using standard creativity measures at the beginning and end of the school term. They found that students who'd dated someone from another country during the term became more creative. In another study, Adam found that even the simple act of reflecting on one's deep relationship with a person from another country caused a temporary boost in creativity.

Adam's research outside the lab echoes these findings. In one of Adam's favorite projects, he looked at fashion lines presented by major fashion houses over 21 seasons. He found that the time fashion designers spent immersed in a different culture "predicted their entire fashion line creativity."

This week on Hidden Brain, we look at the powerful connection between the ideas we dream up and the people who surround us, and what it really takes to think outside the box.

Additional Resources:

Adam Galinsky is a professor of business at Columbia Business School. In addition to his research on diversity and creativity, he's co-author of the book Friend and Foe, which offers new ways of thinking about conflict and cooperation.

Harvard economics professor Richard Freeman has an interesting study on diversity in science. He found that published scientific research receives greater attention if the authors are ethnically diverse.

Cristina Pato is a Galician bagpiper, pianist and composer.

Special thanks to Soundcheck/WNYC for their recording of "Vojo" used in this episode.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Jennifer Schmidt is a senior producer for Hidden Brain. She is responsible for crafting the complex stories that are told on the show. She researches, writes, gathers field tape, and develops story structures. Some highlights of her work on Hidden Brain include episodes about the causes of the #MeToo movement, how diversity drives creativity, and the complex psychology of addiction.
Parth Shah is an associate producer at Hidden Brain. He came to NPR in 2016 as a Kroc Fellow.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.