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May 31, 2017

Creative people really do see the world differently

People who have a general appreciation for artistic endeavors, adventure, curiosity, imagination and emotion tend to see things different than those who tend to be less creative, according to new research published in the June 2017 edition of the Journal of Research in Personality.

While it comes as no surprise that people who score highly in the personality trait known as openness to experience (or simply openness) bring a different perspective to the world, study authors Luke Smillie and Anna Antinori from the University of Melbourne reported that their findings literally see things different than the average man or woman.

Openness, they explained, is the ability to see new possibilities in even familiar environments, and is characterized by a cognitive flexibility that allows an individual to find new and novel uses for mundane objects. Those who score his in the category in personality tests are typically more creative and willing to examine things from multiple angles, the researchers noted.

Yet, as they wrote in an article published by The Conversation, those who tend to be open don’t merely have a different perspective – they literally see things differently, according to the results of a visual perception test conducted by Smillie, Antinori and co-author Olivia Carter.

Similarity suggests that common neural processes may be involved

Specifically, Smillie, Antinori and Carter investigated whether or not openness was associated with a visual perception phenomenon known as binocular rivalry, which occurs when a pair of different images are presented to each eye simultaneously. To the observer, the images seem to periodically change from one to the other, and then back again, the authors explained.

However, at times the observer will see a combination of both images – a phenomenon called “rivalry suppression” where both images are consciously visible at the same time. Rivalry suppression, the researchers noted, is “almost like a ‘creative’ solution to the problem presented by the two incompatible stimuli.”

They conducted a series of experiments, and found that open people tended to see the combined or fused images for longer periods of time than the average individual. Furthermore, they learned that open people reported seeing the “rivalry suppression” version of the images for even longer periods of time while they reporting being in a positive frame of mind (which previous research has shown can boost creativity).

“We [have] provided the first evidence that individuals reporting greater openness to experience may also have characteristically different low-level visual perceptual experiences,” the authors wrote in their study. In light of the “apparent similarity” between the “higher cognitive features” associated with openness and the “lower-level” visual features described in the new paper, they believe that future studies should investigate if the same neural processes are involved in both.

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Image credit: Unsplash/JJ Ying