Experiencing different cultures enhances creativity

When in Rome…Learn why the Romans do what they do:  how multicultural learning experiences facilitate creativity


From Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin


This research reveals that creativity can be enhanced by experiencing cultures different from one’s own. Three studies looked at students who had lived abroad and those who hadn’t, testing them on different aspects of creativity. Relative to a control group, which hadn’t experienced a different culture, participants in the different culture group provided more evidence of creativity in various standard tests of the trait. Those results suggest that multicultural learning is a critical component of the adaptation process, acting as a creativity catalyst..


Research suggests that living in and adapting to foreign cultures facilitates creativity. The current research investigated whether one aspect of the adaptation process—multicultural learning—is a critical component of increased creativity. Experiments 1-3 found that recalling a multicultural learning experience: (a) facilitates idea flexibility (e.g., the ability to solve problems in multiple ways), (b) increases awareness of underlying connections and associations, and (c) helps overcome functional fixedness. Importantly, Experiments 2 and 3 specifically demonstrated that functional learning in a multicultural context (i.e., learning about the underlying meaning or function of behaviors in that context) is particularly important for facilitating creativity. Results showed that creativity was enhanced only when participants recalled a functional multicultural learning experience and only when participants had previously lived abroad. Overall, multicultural learning appears to be an important mechanism by which foreign living experiences lead to creative enhancement.


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Article details

Maddux, W., Adam, H., & Galinsky, A. (2010). When in Rome … Learn Why the Romans Do What They Do: How Multicultural Learning Experiences Facilitate Creativity Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36 (6), 731-741 DOI: 10.1177/0146167210367786

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