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Distraction could drive creativity, study shows

Distractibility, a trait often thought of as a detriment, could actually be a sign of creative genius.


CHICAGO — Distractibility, a trait often thought of as a detriment, could actually be a sign of creative genius.

A new study released by Northwestern University shows an inability to filter sensory information correlates with increased creativity.

"If funneled in the right direction, these sensitivities can make life more rich and meaningful, giving experiences more subtlety," said Darya Zabelina, lead author of the study.

She said the finding was "impressive" and could explain why some of the greatest creative artists in history had trouble concentrating.

In the study, approximately 100 participants listened to sounds and clicks. Researchers assessed their neurological response 50 milliseconds after the noise to determine how much information was being processed.

Researchers compared the results of this test with self-reported levels of creativity on a creative achievement questionnaire.

The study found that people with "leakier" sensory filters, or those who were more affected by the bombardment of sounds, had higher levels of creative achievement. People who were able to filter out the distractions easier were likely to have higher academic test scores.

Zabelina said the study on creativity is one of the first of its kind, and she is hoping to branch it out into more in-depth analysis.

"People with leakier filters notice more information in the world, and they filter out less information as it's coming in," Zabelina said. "They basically have more information to choose from. This can lead to novel combinations of information."

Those people often connect the dots much better and integrate information outside of the focus of attention, Zabelina said.

"In the future, it might be interesting to see whether it's possible to help people with leakier sensitive filters," she said. "It would be great to funnel that into something more productive, or do some type of training where they can access their creativity better."


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