Is there a hidden bias against creativity?

CEOs, teachers, and leaders claim they want creative ideas to solve problems. But creative ideas are rejected all the time. A new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that people have a hidden bias against creativity. We claim to like creativity, but when we’re feeling uncertain and anxious—just the way you might feel when you’re trying to come up with a creative solution to a problem—we cannot recognize the creative ideas we so desire.

Generally, people think is good. Before starting this study, the researchers checked that with a group of college students. “Overwhelmingly, the data showed that students had positive implicit and explicit associations with creativity,” says Jennifer Mueller of the University of Pennsylvania. She carried out the new study with Shimul Melwani of the University of Pennsylvania and Jack A. Goncalo of Cornell University.

But in experiments, people’s perceptions changed. In one experiment, the researchers made some people think about uncertainty—by telling them they might get some extra money after the study based on a random lottery. Other participants went into the study without that priming. They were all given a test that shows how they group concepts together. The people who had been made to think about uncertainty were more likely to subconsciously associate words like “creative,” “inventive,” and “original” with bad concepts like “hell,” “rotten,” and “poison.” In the other condition associated creativity words with things like “rainbow,” “cake,” and “sunshine.”

“If I ask you right now to estimate whether or not you can generate a creative idea to solve a problem, you’re not going to know,” Mueller says. That feeling of uncertainty might be the root of the problem. When you’re trying to come up with a creative solution to a problem, you worry that you can’t come up with a good idea, that what you do come up with might not be practical, or that your idea might make you look stupid. “It feels so bad sometimes trying to be creative in a social context,” Mueller says.

This uncertainty may make leaders reject creative ideas. “But sometimes we need creative ideas. If you’re a company that makes radios and suddenly nobody’s buying them anymore, you don’t have a choice,” Mueller says—you have to come up with something new. Her research suggests that rather than focusing on the process of coming up with ideas, companies may need to pay more attention to what makes them reject creative ideas.

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People are biased against creative ideas, studies find

Citation: Is there a hidden bias against creativity? (2011, November 18) retrieved 22 October 2019 from
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Nov 18, 2011
You just have to show people. That's what it comes down to, doing it and making the example, otherwise you can yakkityyak 'till the cows come home about how swell your ideas are.

Nov 18, 2011
"Is there a hidden bias against creativity?"

More often than not, it's not even hidden. Especially in large, established, conservative organizations.

Nov 18, 2011
I worked at GEC Hirst Research Center, once called "the graveyard of good ideas" by New Scientist magazine. Some of the stuff there that never saw the light of day would have powered half of Silicon Valley had it been a US company.

Nov 18, 2011
The larger group of people, the more conservative it is. At the case of findings, which could affect most of people (like the cold fusion), nearly everyone is against it.


Jonathan Swift: "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."

Adalbert Chamisso: "Pythagoras made one sacrifice to the Gods who sent him this enlightenment; one hundred oxen, slaughtered and burned, professed his gratitude. The oxen, since that day when they scented that a new truth divulged itself, roared inhumanely."

Nov 18, 2011

People don't just not like creativity, they fear and hate it. I learned this long ago and use it to sperate people worth talking to from others among other things.

Nov 18, 2011
It is not a matter of like or dislike. It is a matter of the levels of anxiety and stress makes it more difficult for the prefrontal cortex to recruit the resources necessary to think creatively. People will have to try to solve problems using methods that have not worked well in the past but are present in the brain as strong memories available for automatic processing (the way we normally process actions such as eating, combing our hair, etc). It is the process of automatic thinking and behavior in novel and new situations that is the enemy of creativity and has nothing at all to do with like or dislike.

The best way to help people to think creatively is to help them find ways to reduce anxieties and stress. Offer them support in addressing problems with a creative method. Do not oneself fall into the habit of letting stress make you no longer appreciative of creativity.

Nov 19, 2011
My experience with creative ideas in a large bureacracy is that GOOD creative ideas need to be originated and researched before the crisis develops. A carefully-thought-out idea can then be presented during those windows of opportunity when management is receptive to new ideas (usually because the status quo isn't acceptable). When a group tries to develop creative ideas during a crisis, most of the ideas aren't good and even the good ideas aren't ready for prime time.
Another problem with creative ideas is that they need to be explained well. Usually the creator is very familiar with his idea, but his listeners are much less so. The presentation "pitch" often needs to provide some background information, yet be brief enough that you don't exceed management's attention span.
Naysayers can be the biggest problem. Often the sales pitch has to spend more effort explaining away problems with a creative idea than extolling the benefits.

Nov 19, 2011

drJLD, thinking creatively comes from confindence in your ability to handle things and change. Sadly most people fear both because they don't like themselves. This leads to thier inability to think clearly or creatively.

Next your point that one can't be creative because of automatic thinking is not true at least for me as I have in around .3/sec, see something, created a plan for action and started acting on it proves one can be creative without conciencely thinking and automatic thinking wasn't a problem.

Actions saving a seaplane from crashing into a dock and various other emergencies.

About the only way to change those to think creatively is change their whole way of thinking, making themselves respect themselves by doing, learning. This takes many yrs if they missed it when they were young. In my work I've found only 20-30 can change.

Nov 19, 2011
Sadly most people fear both because they don't like themselves. This leads to their inability to think clearly or creatively.
When I'm bringing analogies of various space-time phenomena with water surface, the people aren't impressed at all. Instead of this, they become upset and furiously negativistic. Such behavior is highly illogical, because these people have no other illustrative explanation anyway - working or not. It's evident, they're deeply frustrated with their lack of understanding.

Dec 08, 2011
"Is there a hidden bias against creativity?"

More often than not, it's not even hidden. Especially in large, established, conservative organizations.

For example a comment at http://www.physor...ark.html
"Scientists have adopted the corporate concept of what it means to be a "professional", but professionals are not creative."

Jan 08, 2012
Again, an unforgivably imprecise assessment of the situation.
With respect to the "experiment", was it a negative attitude toward creativity, in an atmosphere of "uncertainty", that caused the students to be "more likely" to associate it with negative concepts, or were they, perhaps, subconciously trying to guess how their answers might affect the result of the lottery at the end? And, face it, for college students, how lacking in uncertainty is the environment for the students not told about a lottery at the end? They still have tests, dates, money from home, any of a number of things to concern them! And how much "more likely"? Did they each have only one extra negative term associated with creativity, or ten?
And consider, negative attitudes toward creativity in solutions are being presented as being on the part of someone supposedly worried they won't be able to come up with one. But most negative reaction comes from onlookers not called on to provide their own.

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