Creativity Boosters + How-tos

How examining your various social roles may help to boost your creativity

According to a recent study published by Sarah Gaither in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that spending a few minutes thinking about the various social roles you play—spouse, parent, employee, neighbor, friend—can help to boost your creativity and gain creative insights.

We show that something as simple as thinking about the multiple social identities a person has could serve as an intervention to get people to “think outside the box,” the study states.

In the first of a series of studies, Gaither and her team surveyed 58 multiracial and 109 single-race participants who answered a set of demographic questions, before being given one of two assignments: “Please write one paragraph about your average day, things you typically do, places you go, etc.,” or “Please write one paragraph about your racial identity, what it means to you, experiences you may have had.”

Then, they had the participants participate in a Remote Associates Test, a creativity test used to determine a human’s creative potential. During the test, a person is given a set of 3 unrelated words and must think of a fourth word that is somehow related to each of the first three words.

The first study showed that priming a multiracial person’s racial identity (by writing about it) led to greater creativity compared to the control group (those who wrote about their day). Priming a monoracial person’s racial identity did not affect creativity.

The second study featured 57 participants whom identified as a monoracial. They were asked to either write about their average day (same question as before), or to “Please write a few sentences about all of the different identities that you have (i.e., social identities, gender, race, family identities, group identities, etc.). Write about how these multiple identities overlap and affect your life and what they mean to you.”

After, they were given the RAT test as well as a pasta naming task which tested a different kind of creativity. Participants read five examples of pasta names that all ended with the letter “i” and were asked to come up with five new names of pasta. Because no boundaries were given in the exercise, creative thinking was measured by counting the number of new pasta names that did not end with an “i”.

This study round that those written about their multiple identities scored higher on both tests, thus displaying higher levels of creative thinking.

While these tests are just preliminary, “the current findings are the first to identify a link between having multiple, flexible social identities with a cognitive outcome: creativity and that priming multiple social identities in general causes boosts in convergent and divergent creative thinking,” they write.

What are some ways you can test this theory? Write about your role as a mom! How does this differ from your role as an employee or artist and how do they overlap? Then embark on your next creative project. Did you notice a difference?

Read the full study here.