Our brains are hardwired to fear creativityS

For humans to thrive, we often need to come up with unexpected solutions to tricky problems. Yet people are often skeptical and dismissive of creative ideas...and the reason for that is found deep inside our minds.

Anyone who considers him or herself a misunderstood genius - and I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that includes roughly 98% of those reading this - knows the experience of having a brilliant idea rejected. The narrow-minded audience is incapable of grasping the visionary concept being put forward, greeting the proposal with dismissive shrugs and petty objections when they should be showering praise and adulation. Creativity is almost universally considered a positive trait in theory, but in practice it seems to make people distinctly uncomfortable.

Experiments performed in 2010 at the University of Pennsylvania may go some ways to resolving this apparent paradox. According to researchers, the study suggests four basic conclusions:

- Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.
- People dismiss creative ideas in favor of ideas that are purely practical — tried and true.
- Objective evidence shoring up the validity of a creative proposal does not motivate people to accept it.
- Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea.

The study found both conscious and unconscious evidence of a bias against creativity. For the former, the participants had a generally negative reaction to a prototype running shoe that used nanotechnology to keep feet cool and prevent blisters. The shoe worked fine and presented some obvious advantages over regular shoes, and yet there was a definite inclination for the participants to dismiss it out of hand. And on the unconscious side of things, those who professed a preference for creativity still associated such ideas with negative words like "vomit" and "agony."

It all goes back to uncertainty, say the researchers. There's no real pressing need for creative ideas in times of certainty and security, and people tend to associate creativity itself with stepping outside the bounds of safety. They explain:

"Our findings imply a deep irony. Revealing the existence and nature of a bias against creativity can help explain why people might reject creative ideas and stifle scientific advancements, even in the face of strong intentions to the contrary...

"Uncertainty also makes us less able to recognize creativity, perhaps when we need it most. Revealing the existence and nature of a bias against creativity can help explain why people might reject creative ideas and stifle scientific advancements, even in the face of strong intentions to the contrary...The field of creativity may need to shift its current focus from identifying how to generate more creative ideas to identify how to help innovative institutions recognize and accept creativity."

Via Cornell University.

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