Many of us will admit to being dumbfounded when standing in front of a painting. We see shapes, patterns, and squiggly lines on a canvas, with little to no understanding of what it conveys. Others are able to easily create a narrative behind the artwork because they physically see the world differently than the rest of us, according to a recent study in the Journal of Personality Research.
Researchers at the University of Melbourne found people who possess an "openness" personality trait are able to "see" more possibilities around them, because they process visual information differently than most.
“They seem to have a more flexible gate for the visual information that breaks through into their consciousness,” Anna Antinori, a psychologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, told New Scientist.
Previous research has found this openness and flexibility allows creative people to engage with their environment by processing stimuli that most tend to ignore. Open people are more likely to see opportunities in things that appear to be simplistic at first glance. Moreover, creative people do this in an effortless way that may suggest it's innate.
Openness to experience is one of the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience) that encapsulates curiosity, creativity, and an interest in exploring the unknown.
Antinori and her colleagues sought to determine whether openness to experience really does influence an individual's perception of the world by recruiting 123 volunteers to take a personality test to measure their levels of the Big Five, followed by a vision test called the “binocular rivalry” test. In this test, each eye takes in a difference image — either a red image or a green image — simultaneously for two minutes. There can only be be two outcomes: participants only seeing one image at a time as it flips between red and green, or seeing two images morph together into one, known as "mixed percept."
The findings revealed those who scored the highest on openness to experience, which is linked to creativity, were more likely to experience this mixed perception. This suggests when people are open to new experiences, things are processed differently in the brain. Overall, "openness is linked to differences in low-level visual perceptual experience," wrote the researchers, in the study abstract.
A 2014 study in NeuroImage suggests people who are naturally creative possess brains that are structurally different from non-artists. Researchers asked 44 graduate and postgraduate art students and non-art students to complete various drawing tasks that were measured and scored, and then compared to "regional grey and white matter volume in the cortical and subcortical structures" of the brain. The scan showed the artist group had more grey matter in the precuneus located in the parietal lobe. It seems people who are better at drawing seem to have more developed structures in the regions of the brain that control fine motor performance and procedural memory.
While the brains of creative people are wired differently, we can still boost our creativity, even if we aren't natural-born artists. There are several ways to spark creativity, from standing up to dimming the lights.
The act of standing can help foster creativity in the most unexpected of ways. A 2014 study found standing led to more excitement and energy from attendees at a meeting while brainstorming ideas. Moreover, standing can decrease the feeling of being territorial, which led to better information elaboration, and indirectly better group performance.
A stroll in the park or a walk around the block can improve creative thinking while walking and shortly thereafter, according to a 2014 study. The act of walking itself, and not the environment — outdoors or indoors — is what boosted individuals' creative inspiration in the study. Creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to sitting.
Dim The Lights
Dim lighting can lead to a spark of creativity. A 2013 study found dimming the lights increases creativity by making people feel free from constraints. This is due to the psychological effect known as priming; this occurs when a person moves an idea to the forefront of their brain by recalling it.
Source: Antinori A, Carter OL, and Smillie LD. Seeing it both ways: Openness to experience and binocular rivalry suppression. Journal of Research in Personality. 2017.