Our creative ideas are viewed as a window into our true selves

Creative ideas are perceived to be revealing of the self, according to research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. The findings provide new insights into the psychological and interpersonal consequences of creativity.

“Most research on creativity has assumed that creativity is almost inherently positive and so most of the focus has been on how to boost creative output. More recently, I have become interested in the consequences of expressing creative ideas,” said study author Jack A. Goncalo, a professor and the Robert and Helen P. Seass Faculty Fellow at the Gies College of Business.

“The link to self-disclosure came about through a conversation I had with a real estate agent who was showing my family homes and we remarked on the variety of different candle scents that we had smelled throughout the day. This conversation turned into an impromptu brainstorming session — everyone started sharing various ideas for candle scents (e.g. Vanilla, Freshly Baked Cookies, Orange Grove).”

“Then the agent shared a candle scent idea that was so inappropriate that it stopped the conversation completely. That got me thinking — are the ideas we share revealing of our true selves? Does being creative feel personally self-disclosing? So, my coauthor, Josh Katz and I turned that experience into the series of laboratory experiments.”

The research consisted of five separate experiments.

In three experiments with 600 participants in total, the researchers found that people who were asked to generate creative ideas — compared to typical or conventional ideas — were more likely to believe those ideas revealed something about themselves.

Their fourth experiment, which included another 399 participants, indicated that focusing on one particular category of creative ideas tended to produce greater feelings of self-disclosure. In particular, people asked to brainstorm new scents for candles believed their ideas revealed more about themselves when asked to generate only new fruit scents compared to any type of scent.

“This result seems consistent with a growing stream of research suggesting that creativity not only demands cognitive flexibility but also focused persistence,” the researchers wrote in their study.

In the fifth and final experiment, 326 participants generated ideas and then shared them with one another. The researchers found that participants believed they disclosed more about their personality after sharing creative ideas compared to conventional ideas. The participants also felt that their partner revealed more personal information when sharing creative ideas.

“The instruction to be creative is very common in organizations but it is not benign. In the process of being creative, you rely on your own idiosyncratic point of view and unique preferences, thus making the ideas you share revealing of your true self,” Goncalo told PsyPost.

“More importantly, other people listen to your ideas and make judgments about you. We found that when people heard another individual’s creative ideas, they became more confident that their judgments about their personality were accurate. People are not just judging your ideas, they are making personal judgments about you based on your ideas.”

The findings could have some important implications for personal relationships. But, currently, the relationship between creativity and social bonding is unclear.

“We found that people use creative ideas to judge another person’s personality but we found no effect on how much they liked the person. It remains an open question as to whether hearing a person’s creative ideas can pave the way for either rejection or bonding,” Goncalo explained.

“For instance, one person shared creative candle scents ideas like ‘Zombie Apocalypse’, ‘Spoiled Milk in a Hot Car’, ‘Dog Farts’ and ‘Guilt, Guile and Gore.’ You probably formed an image of this person based on these ideas. But whether you like this person or not will probably depend on whether your preferences match.”

“My lab is doing more and more work on the consequences of creativity so I hope to have more findings to share in the near future,” Goncalo added.

The study, “Your Soul Spills Out: The Creative Act Feels Self-Disclosing“, was authored by Jack A Goncalo and Joshua H Katz.