Sensory Filter and Creative AchievementsWhat makes a person creative? Some types of creativity are associated with a “leaky” sensory filter, according to new research from Northwestern University. People with leaky sensory filters may struggle to limit their attention when it comes to sensory input from their environment. The researchers demonstrated that people with creative achievements are more likely to have a leaky sensory filter. The study is the first to provide physiological evidence that real-world creativity may be associated with difficulties filtering extraneous sensory information.

To measure sensory responses, the researchers analyzed the neural markers involved in an early form of attention called sensory gating, a sort of sensory filter. They indexed these markers based on a neurological response called P50 ERP that occurs 50 milliseconds after stimulus onset. Next, the researchers evaluated the creativity of approximately 100 participants using two tests. The participants rated themselves using the Creative Achievement Questionnaire, which provided the researchers with information about their real-world creative accomplishments. Then, the researchers tested the participants’ divergent thinking skills—another form of creativity—using a test that asked the participants to provide as many possible solutions as they could think of for unlikely problems.

Two trends emerged from the results. Divergent thinking scores were correlated to academic test scores and selective sensory gating. This indicates that people who were strong divergent thinkers also performed well academically and were able to screen out irrelevant sensory information. In contrast, real-world creative achievement was correlated to reduced abilities to screen stimuli from conscious awareness, suggesting that individuals with a record of creative success are more sensitive to sensory information.

The findings indicate that some individuals are more strongly affected by their environments than others. Because individuals with leaky sensory gating are exposed to more stimuli, they may be better able to integrate ideas that are typically outside of the field of attention, leading to creativity.

This research is published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

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