[Update: Jim Russell at Return to Pittsburgh made those leaps! Read his excellent post.]
Anecdotal evidence has long held that creativity in artists and writers can be associated with living in foreign parts. Rudyard Kipling, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Paul Gauguin, Samuel Beckett and others spent years dwelling aboad. Now a pair of psychologists has proved that there is indeed a link.
As they report in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, William Maddux of INSEAD, a business school in Fontainebleau, France, and Adam Galinsky, of the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, presented 155 American business students and 55 foreign ones studying in America with a test used by psychologists as a measure of creativity. Given a candle, some matches and a box of drawing pins, the students were asked to attach the candle to a cardboard wall so that no wax would drip on the floor when the candle was lit. (The solution is to use the box as a candleholder and fix it to the wall with the pins.) They found 60% of students who were either living abroad or had spent some time doing so, solved the problem, whereas only 42% of those who had not lived abroad did so.
A follow-up study with 72 Americans and 36 foreigners explored their creative negotiating skills. Pairs of students were asked to play the role of a seller of a petrol station who then needed to get a job and a buyer who would need to hire staff to run the business. The two were likely to reach an impasse because the buyer had been told he could not afford what the seller was told was his minimum price. Nevertheless, where both negotiators had lived abroad 70% struck a deal in which the seller was offered a management job at the petrol station in return for a lower asking price. When neither of the negotiators had lived abroad, none was able to reach a deal.
To check that they had not merely discovered that creative people are more likely to choose to live abroad, Dr Maddux and Dr Galinsky identified and measured personality traits, such as openness to new experiences, that are known to predict creativity. They then used statistical controls to filter out such factors. Even after that had been done, the statistical relationship between living abroad and creativity remained, indicating that it is something from the experience of living in foreign parts that helps foster creativity.
Merely travelling abroad, however, was not enough. You do have to live there. Pcking your beach towel and suntan lotion will not, by itself, make you Hemingway.
The original journal article