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Is America Afraid of Creativity?

Is America Afraid of Creativity?


For all our talk about innovation and “thinking differently,” it turns out, Americans distrust creativity. We superficially value outside-of-the-box thinking, but it also secretly frightens us. At least, that’s the argument Maria Konnikova made a few weeks ago in the Scientific American.

Konnikova points to our instinctive fear of uncertainty as the cause. Habitual, practical choices, she writes, are better for society: they maintain the status quo. Novel, untested elements and creative solutions have the potential to go awry. Because we don’t know what the outcome will be, we tend to distrust creativity.

There’s some research to back these assertions up. One 1995 analysis reports two studies on teachers’ perceptions of students in the classroom – and concludes that creative, curious students aren’t looked on favorably by their teachers. If, like me, you were a student who doodled while taking notes for lectures, or wanted to approach projects in new and interesting ways, this should come as no great shock.

More recent research shows that people may even harbor unconscious biases against creative ideas – in a way similar to how we harbor prejudice or phobias. Konnikova explains:

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is a tool that was created to look for discrepancies between consciously held beliefs (i.e., a belief in racial equality) and unconscious biases (i.e., a faster reaction time when pairing white with positive concepts and black with negative ones than vice versa). The measure can test for implicit bias toward any number of groups (though the most common one tests racial biases) by looking at reaction times for associations between positive and negative attributes and pictures of group representatives. Sometimes, the stereotypical positives are represented by the same key; sometimes, by different ones. Ditto the negatives. And your speed of categorization in each of these circumstances determines your implicit bias. To take the racial example, if you are faster to categorize when “European American” and “good” share a key and “African American” and “bad” share a key, it is taken as evidence of an implicit race bias.

Researchers ran a series of studies using this framework to test attitudes towards creative ideas. They found that even though subjects would rate creativity highly as a positive attribute, when confronted with an actual example of a creative idea, they showed a bias against it.

What does it all mean? Konnikova doesn’t say. I think the take-away from these studies needs to be a greater awareness of our anxiety in uncertain situations. Maybe, sometimes, the best idea is the one that scares us the most.


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Photo credit: Gordon Wrigley

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10:16AM PST on Dec 4, 2012

Historically, in many areas of the world, creative people have been bothered by the parasitic psychiatric movement. Artists such as painters, poets--as well as abstract thinkers such as physicists and mathematicians have been often oppressed. Usually creativity involves some sort of freedom that is usually anti-military, and the psychiatric movement is paramilitary. Creative people can sometimes see more--like how horrible something is, and in different angles, making them an enemy of a corrupt in government, not to mention if they see the numbers do not jive. In countries, such as some European countries, where psychiatrists are rampant with their predatory rage, the people act almost like robots, to not attract any attention.

4:55PM PDT on Oct 25, 2012


2:20PM PDT on May 12, 2012

There are some areas that are so data driven that we forget the most brilliant minds of our past were nurtured in a creative environment. Please encourage all schools to reopen the lines of creativity -- it is truly a major way to develop the whole person.

9:06PM PDT on Mar 31, 2012

Society does, and it's terrible!!!

8:04PM PDT on Mar 19, 2012

Yes, some people are afraid to be creative, for fear of losing.
This especially, applies to conservative thinking people, who have this fear. Of course, they fear most everything.
Thinking about others, instead of yourself so much, may be a cure.

4:31AM PDT on Mar 16, 2012

creativity only frightens conservatives because their mentality is based on fear of anything new

11:44AM PDT on Mar 15, 2012


Creativity is what made human a human.
Statu Quo is like death of dreams, death goals, death of life !
It comes from the being, and this is the root of life.
And when you create, you are gifted with joy.
Let's experience to be creative.
Have a creative day !

9:57AM PDT on Mar 14, 2012

All through history, you can find many examples of how we humans are apprehensive of creativity. It's not exclusive to being Americian. It's just that some societies are more open to creative thinking and doing than others.

9:33PM PDT on Mar 13, 2012

Everybody on this planet is gifted with creativity.Half do not utilize that gift,or are not aware they own it.

6:59PM PDT on Mar 13, 2012

Think we aren't afraid of it? Then why are we STILL a two party dictatorship, when neither party has done anything we ever wanted in the last 20 years?? We're terrified of a third party even though many are much better than what we have now. Check out Jill Stein of the Green party

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