Friday, January 13, 2012

Our bias against creativity

In principle we are all for creativity, but, when faced with the prospect of actually altering our behavior or opinions we falter. Mueller et al suggest that this is a covert, largely unconscious process regulated by how uncertain we feel. Their results show that regardless of the degree to which people are open minded, when they feel motivated to reduce uncertainty (either because they have an immediate goal of reducing uncertainty or they feel uncertain generally), they may experience more negative associations with creativity, which results in lower evaluations of a creative idea. Their findings imply an irony. Other research has shown that uncertainty spurs the search for and generation of creative ideas, yet these findings reveal that uncertainty also makes people less able to recognize creativity, perhaps when they need it most. Here is the abstract.:
People often reject creative ideas, even when espousing creativity as a desired goal. To explain this paradox, we propose that people can hold a bias against creativity that is not necessarily overt and that is activated when people experience a motivation to reduce uncertainty. In two experiments, we manipulated uncertainty using different methods, including an uncertainty-reduction prime. The results of both experiments demonstrated the existence of a negative bias against creativity (relative to practicality) when participants experienced uncertainty. Furthermore, this bias against creativity interfered with participants’ ability to recognize a creative idea. These results reveal a concealed barrier that creative actors may face as they attempt to gain acceptance for their novel ideas.


  1. According to Read Montague, brain scans of familiar things have the same signal as good things. In a risky environment this seems powerfully adaptive to me. OTOH, a capacity take unnecessary risks indicates a biological surplus so should be a plus in the sexual selection stakes if it doesn't perchance kill you.

    See, eg,

  2. Interesting comment!