The Creativity Post: Does Style Trump Substance?


By Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.


“(…) the visual element plays a larger role in our judgement of expertise and performance quality than we might think.”

I was five years old when I first played for Dr. Suzuki. I performed Corelli’s La Folia, and when I was done playing, he said something very astute that always stuck with me.

I should note that he was always very kind to me, and unfailingly supportive and optimistic, but the gist of his comment, conveyed to me in the gentlest possible way, was “You sound better with my eyes closed.”

Indeed, I cringe to watch videos of myself performing back in the day. Knees locked, shoulders slumped, tummy jutting out, face completely expressionless, mouth half-open like a zombie… It’s not a pretty sight.

In subsequent years, other teachers also commented on how disengaged and bored I often looked (or calm, if they were glass half-full types).

The stubborn kid I was, I figured, on principle, that how I looked on stage shouldn’t matter. That my performance should be judged on what people heard, not what they saw.

But what if that’s just not how we’re wired?

What are our eyes doing?

Chia-Jung Tsay is a Juilliard Pre-College alum (piano), with a seriously impressive portfolio of a half-dozen or so degrees from Peabody and Harvard.

Like most talented young musicians, she worked diligently to improve her musical and technical skills, but noticed that she seemed to do better in auditions which required video recordings as opposed to audio-only recordings.

As she pursued her PhD in organizational behavior and psychology, she wondered how large a role our eyes play in the evaluation of a performance, and conducted a series of studies to see what she could find.

Guess the winner!

In a set of experiments including both non-musicians and professional musicians, Tsay evaluated participants’ ability to correctly guess the winner of 10 international competitions by presenting them with 6-second clips of the top three finalists.

Some participants were presented with audio-only clips of the finalists.

Other participants were presented with video-only clips of the finalists where the audio was removed.

Yet others viewed regular video clips with the audio intact.

The novices

When presented with sound-only clips, non-musicians correctly identified the winner ~25.5%-28.8% of the time. In other words, they would have been better off guessing randomly (if participants had simply guessed, you would expect them to pick the winner correctly about 33% of the time).

When presented with video-only clips, non-musicians correctly identified the winner ~46.4%-52.5% of the time. Still not a spectacular percentage, but a definite, and statistically significant edge above purely guessing.

Adding audio to the video seemed to confuse the participants, as this made them less likely to pick the winner (35.4%).

That in itself is a pretty interesting finding – that non-musicians are better able to guess the winner of a big competition merely by watching a silent 6-second video clip of their performance, than by actually hearing them play.

But this isn’t likely to hold true when professional musicians are the ones guessing who the winners are, right?

The pros

Well, as it turns out, the professional musicians didn’t fare much better.

When presented with sound-only clips, the pros correctly identified the winner ~20.5%-25.7% of the time.

And when presented with video-only clips, the pros correctly identified the winners ~46.6%-47% of the time.

Here too, seeing video footage with audio only hindered their efforts (29.5%).


So even professional musicians are better able to guess the winner of a competition by seeing them in action for 6-seconds than by hearing them play for 6-seconds?

This is some pretty astounding data. At first glance, concerning, perhaps. Even disappointing?

Style vs. substance

Some media outlets have taken these findings to mean that we live in a day and age where style trumps substance. Where looks and showmanship matter more than true artistry and musicianship.

But I don’t think Tsay and her data are suggesting that how we look matters more than how we sound. (And it should be noted that follow-up experiments established that race, gender, and physical attractiveness did not significantly impact participants’ judgment.)

I think Tsay’s findings simply suggest that the visual element plays a larger role in our judgement of expertise and performance quality than we might think.

That all else being equal, what we communicate visually may be the extra edge that tips the jury (or the audience) one way or the other.

Recall that the clips were of the top three finalists at international-level competitions.

All the “lesser” performers had already been weeded out in previous rounds. The remaining three were the cream of the crop, and at the highest level of competition, the top musicians are all talented, technically capable, and well-prepared. The differences between competitors are more a matter of style, taste, and nuanced details that are difficult to glean from short snippets of their performance.

If all three competitors are relatively evenly matched, doesn’t it make sense that judges would tend to pick as the winner of a major competition the musician who not only plays great, but looks more passionate, involved, motivated, creative, and unique? Who represents the complete package?

We want more

After all, we live in a day and age where the technical quality of performances is arguably higher than ever. So naturally, we demand more than just a great auditory experience. We want to have an emotional experience, to be moved, not just by the technical and musical elements of a performance, but by the entirety of what we are presented with.

We demand this of our computers, where perfectly functional (but uninspired) beige boxes no longer cut it.

We demand this of our phones, our cars, our book covers, our websites, and even our most common household tools. For instance, I have a plunger for my toilet designed by famed Princeton architect and designer Michael Graves. Why? Because it makes me feel better to look at it, and wasn’t really all that different in price than the ugly plunger which makes me want to…umm, basically not own a plunger.

Increasingly, we even demand this from the speakers and presenters we listen to, thanks to organizations like TED which have raised the level of our expectations.

Take action

At the end of the day, substance matters. Content matters. Skill and quality absolutely matter. But so too does style, design, aesthetics, and the unspoken messages we pick up visually.

Keep this in mind the next time you are preparing for a high-stakes talk, presentation, or performance. Videotape a dry run or dress rehearsal. Then give yourself an edge by taking the time to ensure that you’re communicating the enthusiasm, passion, and conviction that your message deserves, not just to your audience’s ears, but to their eyes as well.

Music Helps Memory – The Creativity Post


Music Helps Memory

By Annie Murphy Paul | Sep 19, 2013

Quality content on creativity, innovation and imagination


“Humans have been remembering through rhyme and song for ages: how canyou update the tradition?”

The best way to remember facts might be to set them to music. Medical students, for example, have long used rhymes and songs to help them master vast quantities of information, and we’ve just gotten fresh evidence of how effective this strategy can be. A young British doctor, Tapas Mukherjee of Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, was distressed by a survey showing that 55 percent of nurses and doctors at Glenfield were not following hospital guidelines on the management of asthma; 38 percent were not even aware that the guidelines existed.Using his cell phone, Mukherjee recorded a video of himself singing immortal lines like “Aim for 94 percent to 98 percent sats now” (that’s a reference to the asthma patient’s blood oxygen level). He posted the video to YouTube and it went viral among hospital staff. Two months after he released the video, Glenside conducted another survey, finding that 100 percent of doctors and nurses were now aware of the asthma treatment guidelines, and that compliance with the guidelines had increased markedly. Mukherjee reported the results at meeting of the European Respiratory Society last week.

Although Mukherjee’s methods are modern, his approach shares in a long tradition of oral storytelling—one that shaped itself over thousands of years to the particular proclivities of the human brain. Oral forms like ballads and epics exist in every culture, originating long before the advent of written language. In preliterate eras, tales had to be appealing to the ear and memorable to the mind or else they would simply disappear. After all, most messages we hear are forgotten, or if they’re passed on, they’re changed beyond recognition—as psychologists’ investigations of how rumors evolve have shown.

In his classic book Memory in Oral Traditions, cognitive scientist David Rubin notes, “Oral traditions depend on human memory for their preservation. If a tradition is to survive, it must be stored in one person’s memory and be passed on to another person who is also capable of storing and retelling it. All this must occur over many generations . . . Oral traditions must, therefore, have developed forms of organization and strategies to decrease the changes that human memory imposes on the more casual transmission of verbal material.”

What are these strategies? Tales that last for many generations tend to describe concrete actions rather than abstract concepts. They use powerful visual images. They are sung or chanted. And they employ patterns of sound: alliteration, assonance, repetition and, most of all, rhyme. One of Rubin’s own experiments showed that when two words in a ballad are linked by rhyme, contemporary college students remember them better than non-rhyming words. Such universal characteristics of oral narratives are, in effect, mnemonics—memory aids that people developed over time “to make use of the strengths and avoid the weaknesses of human memory,” as Rubin puts it.

Songs and rhymes can be used to remember all kinds of information. A study just published in the journal Memory and Cognition finds that adults learned a new language more effectively when they sang the words instead of spoke them. Even great literature is susceptible to this treatment. Book Tunes, a collaboration between educational entrepreneur Jonathan Sauer and hip-hop artist Andy Bernstein (he performs under the name Abdominal), turns long, wordy books into compact, catchy raps, spoken over an insistent beat.

The duo’s latest offering: a rap version of The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. (“Hester’s story is set in the Puritan settlement/that was 17th century Boston where she’s being led/ from the town prison holding her baby daughter Pearl with an A on her chest/ for the world to see which we quickly learn stands for adulterer ‘cause turns out/ H is married . . . “). Book Tunes’s take on the tale of Hester Prynne is being offered jointly with SparkNotes, the study aid provider owned by Barnes & Noble, which is said to be interested in raps of other classics, such as the plays of William Shakespeare.

Purists aghast at the notion may need to be reminded that many of the world’s greatest works of literature, such as The Odyssey and The Iliad, began as oral chants. Humans have been remembering through rhyme and song for ages: how canyou update the tradition?

To our readers: Have you ever used songs or rhymes to remember? Share your ditties on comments below.

How To Be Creative | Off Book | PBS Digital Studios (Video) – The Creativity Post



By The Creativity Post | Oct 03, 2013


Creativity has always been essential for our cultural growth, but there are still many misconceptions about this elusive process.

Creativity has always been essential for our cultural growth, but there are still many misconceptions about this elusive process. Not the left-brain/right-brain binary that we’ve come to believe, being creative is considerably more complex, and requires a nuanced understanding of ourself and others. Being a powerful creative person involves letting go of preconceived notions of what an artist is, and discovering and inventing new processes that yield great ideas. Most importantly, creators must push forward, whether the light bulb illuminates or not.


Julie Furstein, author
Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., Cognitive Psychologist
Kirby Ferguson, filmmaker
Ramsey Nasser, Computer Scientist
– See more at:

Beautiful Minds – Schizotypy, Flow, and the Artist’s Experience

By Scott Barry Kaufman
Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D. is a cognitive psychologist at NYU interested in intelligence and creativity development. He is the author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined.

Musings on the many paths to greatness.
Is the creative experience schizo?

43902-29188Flow- the mental state of being completely present and fully immersed in a task- is a strong contributor to creativity. When in flow, the creator and the universe become one, outside distractions recede from consciousness, and one’s mind is fully open and attuned to the act of creating. Since flow is so essential to creativity and well-being across many slices of life- from sports to music to physics to religion to spirituality to sex- it’s important that we learn more about the characteristics associated with flow so that we may all learn how to tap into this precious mental resource.

In a recent study reported in Schizophrenia Bulletin, Nelson and Rawlings propose that a mild form of schizophrenia called schizotypy may be positively associated with the experience of creative flow. Schizophrenia is a debilitating mental illness that affects roughly 1% of the population and involves altered states of consciousness and “abnormal” perceptual experiences. Schizotypy, which is a watered-down version of schizophrenia, consists of a constellation of personality traits that are evident in some degree in everyone.

High levels of schizotypy are typically found in relatives of individuals with full fledged schizophrenia. Some researchers have proposed that the genes that underlie schizophrenia may remain in the human gene pool because of the benefits those with schizotypy receive in terms of creativity; those with schizotypy have the genes that that may contribute to creativity without the debilitating genes that would prevent them from achieving their maximum potential.

43902-29243Research confirms a link between schizotypy and creative achievement. In particular, “positive” schizotypal traits such as unusual perceptual experiences and magical beliefs tend to be elevated in artists and “negative” schizotypal traits such as physical and social anhedonia and introversion tend to be associated with mathematical and scientific creativity.

But what about the connection between schizotypy and flow? Nelson and Rawlings make the intriguing suggestion that

“Positive schizotypy is associated with central features of ‘flow’-type experience, including distinct shift in phenomenological experience, deep absorption, focus on present experience, and sense of pleasure.”

Similarly, in her fascinating and informative book Writing in Flow, Susan K. Perry comments that

“It shouldn’t play into any of your anxieties about the loss of control that comes with flow if I share with you that looseness and the ability to cross mental boundaries are aspects of both schizophrenic thinking and creative thinking.”

To examine the connection between positive schizotypy and the experience of flow, Nelson and Rawlings had a sample of 100 artists from a wide range of artistic fields (including music, visual arts, theatre, and literature) report aspects of their personality, their experiences of creativity, and their levels of “postitive” schizotypal traits such as affective disturbance and mental boundaries.

Their Experience of Creativity Questionnaire measured the following components:

43902-29245Distinct Experience, “related to the creative process being a definite shift in nature or type of experience. This change in experience included such aspects as loss of self-awareness, a breakdown of boundaries, a sense of contact with a force beyond the individual self, and a confidence and effortlessness about the artistic activity.”

Anxiety, “related to a sense of anxiety and vulnerability associated with the creative process, particularly after completion of the process.”

Absorption, related to “the artist’s feeling inspired and being deeply absorbed in the artistic activity.”

Power/Pleasure , “related to a sense of control, power, and pleasure felt during the creative process.”

Clarity/Preparation, “a sense of certainty and clarity about the direction in which the artistic activity should proceed, including the meaning of the piece of work, and to cultivating an appropriate mood for the creative process.”

Consistent with prior research, they found that their sample of artists scored higher than the average population (based on norm data) on the positive schizotypal traits of unipolar affective disturbance and thin boundaries as well as the personality traits of Openness to Experience and Neuroticism.

Interestingly, they didn’t replicate research showing elevated levels of bipolar mood disorder in artists. As a possible explanation, the researchers point out that their sample consists of mainly contemporary artists. As they point out, “creativity is a construct that varies not only across fields, but also across styles and artistic movements.”

Indeed, clinical psychologist Louis A. Sass notes in his article, “Schizophrenia, Modernism and the ‘Creative Imagination’: On Creativity and Psychopathology,” that most of the prior work on the link between bipolar and artistic creativity has been based on eminent classical artists from earlier periods, particularly the Romantic period. In his book, “Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature and Thought,” Sass further makes the case that modernistic and postmodern artists report psychotic or schizotypal experiences.

According to Nelson and Rawlings:

“These affinities include an adversarial stance, perspectivism and relativism, a certain fragmentation and passivization of the ego, loss of the ”worldhood of the world,” rejection or loss of the sense of temporal flow or narrative unity, forms of intense self-reference and extreme and pervasive detachment or emotional distancing.”

Most interestingly, Nelson and Rawlings found that the positive schizotypal traits of unipolar affective disturbance and thin boundaries were significantly associated with four components from their Experience of Creativity Questionnaire: distinct experience, anxiety, absorption, and power/pleasure. Note that three of these components (distinct experience, absorption, and power/pleasure) are directly related to the experience of flow.

These findings are fascinating and beg the question: what mechanism or set of mechanisms account for the association between schizotypy and the experience of flow? The researchers argue that latent inhibition is of particular relevance to understanding this association (also see Schizophrenic Thought: Madness or Potential for Genius? and Are People With Schizophrenia Living a Dream?).

43902-29187Reduced latent inhibition represents an inability to screen out from awareness stimuli that have previously been tagged as irrelevant. Indeed, prior research has shown an association between reduced latent inhibition and psychosis. However, emeritus Professor David R. Hemsley at King’s College, London argues that while this loosening of expectations based on previous experience may cause a disruption in sense of self, this mental process may also confer advantages for creativity. Recent research showing common genetic and neurotransmitter linkages (particularly dopamine) between both schizophrenia and creativity support this association at a biological level (see Why Creative Folks Blink a Lot).

As the researchers note, the million dollar question is this: What distinguishes the person who in the Philosopher Kierkegaard’s phrase “drowns in possibility” from the person who is able to use his or her reduced latent inhibition in a way that enables heightened levels of creativity?

Some researchers have argued that intelligence and working memory may be factors that protect the individual with creative potential from falling over the edge into madness. Factors such as working memory and high executive functioning (which tend to show activations in the prefrontal cortex of the brain) may enable the individual with reduced latent inhibition to not go mad from the influx of emotions and sensations and make good use of the broad range of novel input.

Indeed, researchers Shelley Carson and Jordan Peterson have shown that this particular combination of high IQ and reduced latent inhibition is associated with creative achievement. Additionally, I’ve done research showing that reduced latent inhibition is associated with a faith in affective intuition in students with in tact executive functioning (see Schizophrenic Thought: Madness or Potential for Genius?).

So how would reduced latent inhibition be associated with the phenomenology of flow? Nelson and Rawlings reason that the reduced latent inhibition’s failure to precategorize stimuli as irrelevant would “result in immediate experience not being shaped or determined by preceding events” and

“it is precisely this newness of appreciation, and the associated sense of exploration and discovery, that stimulates the deep immersion in the creative process, which itself may trigger a shift in quality of experience, generally in terms of an intensification or heightening of experience.”

reckon that it is this Openness to Experience aspect (and associated functioning of the dopaminergic neurotransmitter system) that is crucial to understanding the schizotypy/flow connection. As my own research program and that of others (e.g., Jordan Peterson) is showing, self-reported Openness to Experience is in fact related to reduced latent inhibition, suggesting that Openness to Experience is a phenotype that is related to actual information processing.

Positive schizotypy, latent inhibition, and flow

Nelson and Rawlings’ study suggests that positive schizotypy, latent inhibition, and flow are intimately related. A lot more research needs to be done, however, in order to more fully understand the relations between these three constructs. Nonetheless, I think their study breaks new ground in a number of ways.

Firstly, they focus on the phenomenology of the creative experience. Prior research has shown linkages between schizotypy and creative achievement but not what it’s like to experience flow. I personally think this sort of research is the way forward.

Secondly, they propose a mechanism (latent inhibition) that may account for the link between schizotypy and the experience of flow. While psychologists such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi have done a remarkable job increasing the public’s awareness of the importance of flow and the factor’s that enable flow, rigorous scientific research on the cognitive mechanisms underlying flow have been lacking. Nelson and Rawling provide some intriguing possibilities for future research that would put flow on more firm scientific grounding.

Thirdly, they focus on a particular demographic- artists. I think this approach is important, and future work should look at the relation between both positive and negative schizotypy, latent inhibition, and flow using creators in both the arts and sciences to assess similarities and differences between the various groups (scientists also often enter a flow state when engaging in their work).

This is an exciting time for research on the linkages between mental illness and creativity. Researchers such as Geoffrey Miller, Daniel Nettle, Dennis Kinney, Lars Penke, Ruth Richards, Andrew Shaner, Paul Silvia, Oshin Vartanian, Neus Barrantes-Vidal, Dasha Zabelina, and many others are shedding lght on the the nature and nurture of the mental illness/creativity connection. Also look out for creativity researcher James C. Kaufman’s upcoming edited volume on the creativity-mental illness link. He has put together a terrific line-up of scholars who are tackling the connection from different perspectives using different methodologies.

Additionally, I’m currently collaborating with researchers Justin Garcia and Leslie Heywood at SUNY Binghamton on a study looking at the genetic basis of creativity and we will be investigating common genetic linkages between schizotypy and creativity. I’m also collaborating with a great team of researchers (Aaron Kozbelt, Michael Magee, Joe Kim, Deborah Walder, and Celine Joiris ) on a book chapter for James’ volume where we are reviewing the literature on the evolutionary genetic basis for the psychosis-creativity link. I also have been working with the philosopher Elliot Samuel Paul, who makes a compelling case that creativity (dispositions which may also show linkages to various forms of mental illness) is a neglected virtue in the philosophical literature on virtue theory.

I look forward to reporting in future blog posts the findings of my colleagues and I. Hopefully this research will allow for a deeper appreciation of the potential for creativity in those who are prone to psychosis. While debilitating mental illness is certainly not conducive to creativity, exciting new research is starting to point to the conclusion that some mental mechanisms and dispositions that are associated with full-blown psychosis may also be present in varying degrees in everyone and may confer tremendous advantages to flow, creativity, and what makes life meaningful.

© Scott Barry Kaufman


Nelson, B., & Rawlings, D. (2010). Relating schizotypy and personality to the phenomenology of creativity. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 36, 388-399.

After the Show: The Many Faces of the Creative Performer – The Creativity Post

The Jackson 5

The Jackson 5

By Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.

Author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined; Co-founder of The Creativity Post.


The many complexities and contradictions of the creative performer.

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” ― Pearl S. Buck

“Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” – Walt Whitman

A_The_Jackson_5_in_1973-300x300Recounting his recording sessions with the young Michael Jackson, famed record producer Quincy Jones remembers that “Michael was so shy, he’d sit down and sing behind the couch with his back to me while I sat with my hands over my eyes — and the lights off.” What a contrast from his onstage extroverted, charismatic and bold performances!

In the article “The confusing legacy of Michael Jackson,” Todd Leopold discusses the perplexing combination of seemingly contradictory traits displayed by Michael Jackson. In explaining his many sides, Jackson biographer J. Randy Taraborelli essentially throws his hands up in the air in exasperation as he tries to make sense of the apparent contradictions:

I think that when you’re talking about Michael Jackson and you try to analyze him, it’s like analyzing electricity, you know? It exists, but you don’t have a clue as to how it works.

Creativity researchers aren’t so confused. They have long-ago accepted the fact that creative people are complex. Almost by definition, creativity is complex. Creative thinking is influenced by many traits, behaviors, and sociocultural factors that come together in one person. It would be surprising if all of these factors didn’t sometimes, or even most of the time, appear to contradict one another.

In the 60s, after extensively interviewing some of the most creative people of his generation, legendary creativity researcher Frank X. Barron came to the following conclusion:

“Thus the creative genius may be at once naïve and knowledgeable, being at home equally to primitive symbolism and to rigorous logic. He is both more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, occasionally crazier and yet adamantly saner, than the average person.”

After interviewing 91 eminent people, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi came to thesame conclusion decades later: “creative people show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an “individual,” each of them is a “multitude.””

To me, some of the most fascinating contrasts are those found in creativeperformers — those who are constantly on stage and in the public eye. Out of Csikszentmihaly’s list of 10 complex personality traits of creative people, I think these three are the most relevant to creative performers:

These three seeming contradictions — energy/rest, extroversion/introversion, and openness/sensitivity — are not separate phenomena but together seem to form the core of the creative performer’s personality. These characteristics are also linked to what Elaine Aron refers to as a highly sensitive personality (HSP). HSP’s make up 15-20 percent of the general population and tend to be more aware than others of subtleties, get more easily overwhelmed when things get too intense or there is too much sensory input, are easily affected by other’s moods, and are deeply moved by arts and music. Some of the most creative people have very high levels of sensitivity and have found ways to accommodate their sensitivity.

Take Yoshira Nakamatsu, perhaps one of the most creative (if not also a bit nutty) inventors of all time. He invented many ‘calm rooms’ around his house to minimize as much as possible any potential sensory input that might interfere with his creative process. My favorite calm room is his bathroom, where his toilet shuts out every noise and every magnetic and electronic field! According to Dr. Nakamatsu, “Such a calm room erases all noise from your brain, you can concentrate and think.” Dr. Nakamatsu also has a “dynamic room” in his old house, where music, patterns and textures stimulate the brain. According to Nakamatsu, this room is conducive to inventing, allowing the creator to mix ideas in his or her head. The genius of Dr. Nakamatsu may come in large part, from his ability to flexibly switch between extreme quiet and extreme stimulation (read here for more on the good Dr.’s genius).

heavymetalWhat about extremely extroverted performers? Do they also fit the profile? Psychologist Jennifer O. Grimes went to three major summer metal rock tours, including one of the largest heavy metal/hard rock festivals in the world — “Ozzfest.” Talk about extroverted performers! Grimes interviewed 21 musicians associated with signed touring acts in an isolated room backstage for approximately 20-25 minutes.

Behind the curtain, how did these hard rock musicians describe themselves? Below are some of Jennifer’s impressions (for a fuller summary, see here).


Introversion / Extroversion

All participants showed interest in physical activities but also reported requiring “alone time.”
Most participants reported “overthinking everything” and being hypercritical, exhibiting critical attention to detail and a careful method of planning everything.
Those familiar only with the subjects’ stage persona believed the subjects to be friendly, bold and approachable. The acquaintances who were able to respond to Grimes’ interview questionnaire reported that the subjects were not approachable or appeared to hold a condescending view of others until one became better acquainted with the individual. Those closer to the musicians thought they were warm, friendly, calm and pleasant.

The introverts in her sample seemed adept at using introversion and extroversion in various facades to manipulate their appearances to the various circles of friends, acquaintances and others. As Grimes puts it, musicians were adept at “juggling multiple faces” (I really like this way of phrasing it!).

Many of Grimes’s participants felt as though they were often misunderstood or perceived in a negative light, sometimes due to shyness.

Openness / Sensitivity

The musicians in Grimes’s sample reported being in the zone onstage, and being able to “tune out” external stimuli unrelated to the task. At the same time, Grimes found a lot of the musicians reported a heightened sensitivity to their surroundings and their experience of sound, lighting, scents, etc.

All of the musicians reported some degree of unusual perceptions, especially relating to high sensory sensitivity.

All participants described music as a means of self-expression, relating to others, and finding fulfillment. Subjects reported that listening to or creating music allowed them to recharge when overstimulated.

Musicians reported that any amount of inhibition hindered creative production. Apparently, this was a conscious decision: artists explained how they learned to work with the process so that they did not unintentionally inhibit their creativity by blocking their own flow.

Many of Grimes’s subjects showed an appreciation of fantasy; daydreaming was commonly reported. Drummers reported less abnormal perceptual experiences, lower levels of sensitivity, and lower anxiety than the rest of the instrumentalists.

Those writing melodic aspects reported more abnormal sensory experiences, a greater sense of feeling overwhelmed, greater sensitivity, higher anxiety, emotional fluctuation, and pronounced attention to organization, rigid practices, beliefs, and adherence to habits and schedules. When these qualities were most pronounced, they appeared to be associated with the most productive periods of creative writing. Folks who did music composition reported that when they feel overwhelmed, they withdraw and write, an experience described as both cathartic and impossible without the abnormal feelings and/or perceptions. Grimes concludes that it is her hope that the stereotyping about introversion will cease to pervade introversion literature without unbiased support for those claims.

So that’s heavy metal rockers. What about stand-up comedians, another group of creative performers that often seem quite Extraverted onstage?

Psychologist Gil Greengross and colleagues compared the personality traits of 31 professional stand-up comedians and 9 amateur comedians against the personality traits of 10 humor writers and 400 college students. They found that the comedians (both professional and amateur) scored on average the lowest in self-reported extroversion, even lower than comedy writers. According to the researchers,

“The public perceives comedians as ostentatious and flashy. Their persona on stage is often mistakenly seen interchangeably with their real personality, and the jokes they tell about their lives are considered by many to have a grain of truth in them. However, the results of this study suggest that the opposite is true. Perhaps comedians use their performance to disguise who they are in their daily life. Comedians may portray someone they want to be, or perhaps their act is a way to defy the constraints imposed on their everyday events and interactions with others.”

While most of the results I presented in this article came from self-report, I think the evidence is suggestive that for a large majority of performers, in some of the most extraverted forms of performance, there is this great ability to juggle multiple faces and a need for downtime and reflection.

Coming into psychology from a musical background, I can certainly identify with the unique cognitive experiences of the performer/artist. But even putting on my scientist face, I’ve come across a lot of research (including some of my own) showing just how intertwined and prevalent sensitivity, openness to experience, flow, abnormal perceptual experiences, and personality contradictions really are in creative people, especially artists (see Schizotypy, Flow, and the Artist’s Experience).

Hopefully by combining methods, such as self-reported experiences, peer reports, and more objective tests, we can shed more light on the many complexities and seeming contradictions found in creative people of many different flavors, and by so doing counter common black-and-white stereotypes about people in general.

© 2013 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved

For more on the development of intelligence and creativity, see “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined“.

Telling A Story In A Song – The Science of Storytelling


The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains

Lifehacker – Communication

A good story can make or break a presentation, article, or conversation. But why is that? When Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich started to market his product through stories instead of benefits and bullet points, sign-ups went through the roof. Here he shares the science of why storytelling is so uniquely powerful.

In 1748, the British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, spent a lot of his free time playing cards. He greatly enjoyed eating a snack while still keeping one hand free for the cards. So he came up with the idea to eat beef between slices of toast, which would allow him to finally eat and play cards at the same time. Eating his newly invented “sandwich,” the name for two slices of bread with meat in between, became one of the most popular meal inventions in the western world.

What’s interesting about this is that you are very likely to never forget the story of who invented the sandwich ever again. Or at least, much less likely to do so, if it would have been presented to us in bullet points or other purely information-based form.

For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods. Recently a good friend of mine gave me an introduction to the power of storytelling, and I wanted to learn more.

Here is the science around storytelling and how we can use it to make better decisions every day:
Our brain on stories: How our brains become more active when we tell stories

We all enjoy a good story, whether it’s a novel, a movie, or simply something one of our friends is explaining to us. But why do we feel so much more engaged when we hear a narrative about events?

It’s in fact quite simple. If we listen to a powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it, nothing else happens.

When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.

If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up. If it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets active:

“Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex. […] Then, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements.”

A story can put your whole brain to work. And yet, it gets better:

When we tell stories to others that have really helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can have the same effect on them too. The brains of the person telling a story and listening to it can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton:

“When the woman spoke English, the volunteers understood her story, and their brains synchronized. When she had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.”

Anything you’ve experienced, you can get others to experience the same. Or at least, get their brain areas that you’ve activated that way, active too:

Evolution has wired our brains for storytelling—how to make use of it

Now all this is interesting. We know that we can activate our brains better if we listen to stories. The still unanswered question is: Why is that? Why does the format of a story, where events unfold one after the other, have such a profound impact on our learning?

The simple answer is this: We are wired that way. A story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think. We think in narratives all day long, no matter if it is about buying groceries, whether we think about work or our spouse at home. We make up (short) stories in our heads for every action and conversation. In fact, Jeremy Hsu found [that] “personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations.”

Now, whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. That’s why metaphors work so well with us. While we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, or disgust.

The following graphic probably describes it best:


In a great experiment, John Bargh at Yale found the following:

“Volunteers would meet one of the experimenters, believing that they would be starting the experiment shortly. In reality, the experiment began when the experimenter, seemingly struggling with an armful of folders, asks the volunteer to briefly hold their coffee. As the key experimental manipulation, the coffee was either hot or iced. Subjects then read a description of some individual, and those who had held the warmer cup tended to rate the individual as having a warmer personality, with no change in ratings of other attributes.”

We link up metaphors and literal happenings automatically. Everything in our brain is looking for the cause and effect relationship of something we’ve previously experienced.

Let’s dig into some hands on tips to make use of it:
Exchange giving suggestions for telling stories

Do you know the feeling when a good friend tells you a story and then two weeks later, you mention the same story to him, as if it was your idea? This is totally normal and at the same time, one of the most powerful ways to get people on board with your ideas and thoughts. According to Uri Hasson from Princeton, a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.

The next time you struggle with getting people on board with your projects and ideas, simply tell them a story, where the outcome is that doing what you had in mind is the best thing to do. According to Princeton researcher Hasson, storytelling is the only way to plant ideas into other people’s minds.
Write more persuasively—bring in stories from yourself or an expert

This is something that took me a long time to understand. If you start out writing, it’s only natural to think “I don’t have a lot of experience with this, how can I make my post believable if I use personal stories?” The best way to get around this is by simply exchanging stories with those of experts. When this blog used to be a social media blog, I would ask for quotes from the top folks in the industry or simply find great passages they had written online. It’s a great way to add credibility and at the same time, tell a story.
The simple story is more successful than the complicated one

When we think of stories, it is often easy to convince ourselves that they have to be complex and detailed to be interesting. The truth is however, that the simpler a story, the more likely it will stick. Using simple language as well as low complexity is the best way to activate the brain regions that make us truly relate to the happenings of a story. This is a similar reason why multitasking is so hard for us. Try for example to reduce the number of adjectives or complicated nouns in a presentation or article and exchange them with more simple, yet heartfelt language.

Quick last fact: Our brain learns to ignore certain overused words and phrases that used to make stories awesome. Scientists, in the midst of researching the topic of storytelling have also discovered, that certain words and phrases have lost all storytelling power:

“Some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more.”

This means, that the frontal cortex—the area of your brain responsible to experience emotions—can’t be activated with these phrases. It’s something that might be worth remembering when crafting your next story.

What storytelling does to our brains | Buffer

Leo Widrich is the co-founder of Buffer, a smarter way to share on Twitter and Facebook. Leo writes more posts on efficiency and customer happiness over on the Buffer blog. Hit him up on Twitter @LeoWid anytime; he is a super nice guy.

Title illustration by Tina Mailhot-Roberge.

Tips on Innovation Learned from Creative Geniuses


By Roberta Ness, M.D., M.P.H.


“Geniuses are not omnipotent. They are just very skilled at employing the creativity toolbox”: ‘Genius Unmasked’ by Roberta Ness.

How would you like to have Albert Einstein rise from the dead and spend an afternoon telling you how he thinks? How about getting a few tips for your creative muse from Edison? Skeptical huh? None of us have ever heard a genius explain how he or she reasons and even if they could, the rest of us are simply not that omnipotent. But my book Genius Unmasked reveals a surprising truth about genius. By taking a whirlwind journey through the lives and minds of over a dozen brilliant scientists such as Darwin, Einstein, Edison, Montessori, and Pasteur, Genius Unmasked demonstrates that each used a systematic thinking method. It was a method common to them all. The insights achieved by the greatest minds of the past century were not mystical or unknowable. They stemmed from identifiable tools that you, too, can access.

Consider the accomplishments of Charles Darwin, father of the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. Darwin’s theory departs so radically from religious teachings and it is so counterintuitive that it continues, 180 years later, to generate controversy. In a recent Gallop poll, fewer than 20 percent of Americans surveyed subscribe to the tenet that human beings developed over millions of years from other life forms.

What Darwin posited is that reproduction is Mother Nature’s way of dealing random cards from a deck of diverse traits that a species might inherit. If a card is dealt that enhances the holder’s hardiness in a given environment then that card gets dealt again in the next round. On the other hand, if the card reduces hardiness, it is discarded. Eventually, the hardiness card becomes dominant in the game. Thus, Darwin’s theory suggested that Mother Nature does not care what cards get dealt; rather, the environment determines which traits stay in the game and which get multiplied over generations.

How did Darwin shatter the prevailing belief of his time that God creates all creatures to perfection? How did he replace this frame with the cynical view that nature is nothing more than random anarchy? Mind you, Darwin was no conventional thinker. Even as a youth he rejected convention, dropping out of the University of Edinburgh where his father envisioned he would gain the credentials to become a physician like himself. Instead, Darwin spent his privileged formative years beetle collecting and classifying plants. Just as his father was about to ship him off to become an Anglican minister, a letter from a former botany professor allowed him to ship off in radically different direction that would change his life.

In 1831 Darwin became the gentleman companion and naturalist to Captain Robert FitzRoy on a round-the-world voyage of the HMS Beagle. The Beagle adventure gave Darwin the opportunity to practice his first tool of creative genius: observation. With the greatest of patience, persistence, and discipline, Darwin discovered and categorized crate loads full of flora and fauna representing the rich diversity of South America and the South Seas. His care in noting every feature of each specimen became the basis for his transformational insight.

Humans are surrounded by so much sensory input that we become complacent to our surroundings. To prove this to yourself, just consider what you actually noticed while traveling to work or school this morning — with much on our minds, the answer for most of us is “not much.” Innovation starts with training yourself to be keenly aware of each moment.

One famed constituent of Darwin’s treasure trove of specimens was an array of birds from the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Thinking they were a mixture of orioles, grosbeaks, and wrens, he was amazed when, upon his return to England, a consulting ornithologist, John Gould, identified all of them as finches. Here was another of Darwin’s thinking tools: the power of groups. Alone, it is not clear that Darwin would have achieved a breakthrough.

The democratization of ideas and the power of pluralism make the World Wide Web the most potent tool ever devised for finding transformational solutions to mankind’s greatest problems. The lowly man-on-the-street suddenly becomes the leader of a political uprising through social media. The solo researcher harnesses the capabilities of hundreds of colleagues to disentangle the secrets of the genome. Crowdsourcing author Jeff Howe explains that a group with some understanding of a problem’s complexities and enough latitude to express individuality will access “local knowledge” — a diversity of knowledge and experience that can find breakthrough solutions not available to the solo problem solver or even a group of experts. He describes an experiment in which two artificial groups competed to solve a task. One, a virtual “Mensa group” consisted of the best and brightest content experts, each possessing a similar type of training and smarts. Against them was a “Brown socks group” without the same expert brain power but with a high degree of able-mindedness and a high degree of diversity. Surprisingly, the Brown socks beat the Mensas every time. Today, with the Web at your fingertips and an important problem to share you can assemble an orchestra of volunteers to expand your creative capabilities.

Analogy was a further device in Darwin’s toolbox. Appreciating that species could be diverse left him wondering, to no effect, about the forces that generated such diversity. At just this crossroads, a stroke of luck led him to read the work by the demographer Malthus: Essay on the Principles of Population. Malthus said that the human population increases geometrically. From two parents come four offspring; those four produce eight of their own; eight in the next generation produces sixteen and so on. However, food production increases arithmetically: with luck and good farming practices a farmer producing two bushels of corn might increase his yield to three in the next generation, and four in the following generation. Before you know it, Malthus claimed, hungry Englishmen would be roaming a country side full of famine, pestilence, and war. Darwin realized that Malthus had hit upon the missing piece of his own theory — the explanation for the perpetuation of diversity. The environment determined what traits were adaptive and which not. Just as Malthus believed that farming constrains population, Darwin posited that environmental conditions selected those traits that were most likely to be transmitted to the next generation. And voila, Darwin had invented survival of the fittest.

As eluded to previously, Darwin’s most radical tool was frame shifting. He abandoned the prevailing belief, or frame, that God is the caring master craftsman that perfectly fashions all living things. To break this frame, Darwin reversed the master craftsman assumption, speculating that Mother Nature cares nothing for the random variation that she throws into the competition for survival.

Shattering widely-held assumptions — breaking frames — is not easy and it takes practice, but it is the key to innovating. We assume that obesity is a problem of personal choice but maybe that is wrong. When human genetic susceptibility is combined with an obesogenic food environment self-control may be close to impossible. If so, the assumption of personal responsibility is not fully valid. A new frame, that the public must advocate for policies to force food manufacturers to market healthier foods, may be needed.

Darwin was gifted, but not as a wizard — as a user of tools. These included observation, the power of groups, analogy, frame shifting, and reversal. Genius Unmasked describes these and other tools plied by eminent scientists in the fields of physics, psychology, education, engineering, chemistry, and biology. Along the way, we meet common household names and we also encounter less well-known but equally fascinating characters. We get to dissect the minds of Russell Marker and John Rock, fathers of the oral contraceptive Pill, Ancel Keys, originator of the Mediterranean diet, and Paul Baran, mastermind behind the Internet, among others.

Geniuses are not omnipotent. They are simply very skilled at employing the contents of the creative toolbox. By understanding the methods employed by eminent innovators, you, too, can learn to apply the tools of genius. Learning is useful mimicry — the stories of geniuses can help you find your own capacity for ingenuity.

genius_unmasked_s260x420Genius Unmasked reveals the true nature of genius, taking the reader on a journey through the lives and minds of more than a dozen brilliant scientists, ranging from Darwin, Einstein, Edison, and Pasteur, to such lesser known but important innovators as Maria Montessori. Their stories are truly compelling, and at time inspiring, but, more important, Roberta Ness uses these stories to highlight a cognitive tool box that anyone can employ. Ness, an authority on innovation, outlines eleven basic strategies–including finding the right question, observation, analogy, changing point of view, dissection, reorganization, the power of groups, and frame shifting. Beginning with Charles Darwin, who left behind a voluminous trail of writing that preserved his thinking process, Ness illuminates his use of all eleven tools. Indeed, for each genius, she combines a fascinating narrative of their creative work with an astute analysis of how they used particular tools to achieve their breakthroughs. We see how Ancel Keys, the father of the Mediterranean diet, used the “power of groups”–enlisting a team of statisticians, nutritionists, physiologists, and physicians–to track the health benefits of exercise and diet. How Paul Baran conceived packet switching–the idea that made the internet possible–through analogy with the neurological networks of the brain. And how Maria Montessori overturned the conventional frame of thinking about the role of children in education.

Genius Unmasked shows how the most creative minds in science used tools that can help us improve our creative abilities. Geniuses are not omnipotent. They are just very skilled at employing the creativity toolbox highlighted in this book.

About Dr. Ness

Roberta B. Ness, M.D., M.P.H., a recognized expert in women’s health research, became dean of The University of Texas School of Public Health November 1, 2008. She is the School’s fourth dean since it was established in 1969. Dr. Ness also holds the M. David Low Chair in Public Health, is a professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Disease Control, and Vice President for Innovation at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. She is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science, a fellow of the American College of Physicians and past-President of the American College of Epidemiology. She is President-Elect of the American Epidemiological Society.