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article imageCreative people have lower ability to filter sensory distraction

By Karen Hardison     Mar 13, 2015 in Science
Creative production is linked to a lesser ability to filter distracting sensory input and not to the ability to think on-your-feet. Are creative people always subject to "leaky" sensory input or can they shut off the sensory stimulus valve?
Producing real-world creative objects and demonstrating high levels of "divergent thinking," or the ability to quickly produce cognitive ideas, are both aspects of creativity but the two traits are not directly correlated with each other. Direct correlation to real-world creativity comes through the inability to adequately disregard sensory stimulus. This inability is called leaky sensory gating.
Sensory Gating and Leaky Sensory Gating
Sensory gating allows selective disregard of undesirable sensory stimulus while leaky sensory gating permits undesirable stimulus to leak into conscious perception. The study authors remind us that great writers like Chekhov and Goethe complained of distracting sensory stimulus.
Is Leakiness a Stable Trait or Modulated Per Task?
One question that arises from this research, conducted by Darya Zabelina, lead author of the study at Northwestern University, is whether or not leakiness can be selectively employed for creative tasks so that the otherwise irrelevant stimulus aids in richer real-world creativity. In other words, is leaky sensory gating a modulated process used for the specific task of creating?
Zabelina notes that sensory gating (selective or leaky gating) is an event that occurs early in the stimulus response process. This suggests that, with leaky gating, information irrelevant to the focus of attention is integrated in the process of real-world object creativity. The suggestion here is that leakiness is an involuntary integration of sensory stimulus into the creative process. If such is the case, then leaky sensory gating is a stable trait that is not voluntarily modulated for creative processes.
Analyses of Neural, Real-World and Cognitive Functions
Researchers indexed neural markers in the neurophysiological response of sensory gating, which occurs very early after an individual is affected by a stimulus. In sensory gating, irrelevant stimulus is filtered out of the field of attention. For 100 participants, markers for the neurophysiological response of sensory gating were related to the two measures of creativity: divergent thinking and real-world creative objects.
To measure creativity, participants answered a questionnaire on their real-world creative achievements and undertook a standard laboratory divergent thinking test that is scored on quick thinking in a limited time frame. The divergent thinking score and the self-report of creative achievement were then related to neural markers for sensory gating, either selective sensory gating or leaky sensory gating.
Creativity Requires Being Distracted
Those with high divergent thinking scores correlated with selective sensory gating, with an increased ability to filter out irrelevant sensory stimulus so that it does not enter conscious awareness. Those with high real-world creative achievement correlated with leaky sensory gating, with a reduced ability to inhibit sensory stimuli from entering conscious awareness. This means their attention is involuntarily deployed over a wider range of sensory stimulus. To be creative, based on the results of this study, requires hypersensitivity to stimulus, so geniuses are those who perceive widely and with great detail whether they would or not. It is to be noted that this study cannot address whether the leaky trait is stable or can be voluntarily modulated for selected tasks.
More about Creativity, sensory stimulus, divergent thinking, realworld creativity, sensory gating
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