New research provides evidence that thinking about God can stifle the creativity of believers, particularly among those who adopt a passive follower mindset after contemplating their Creator. But believers appeared to be just as creative as their faithless counterparts when not thinking about God. The new findings, published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, shed light on the impact of monotheistic belief in God on creativity.
“There is a growing demand to give believers the latitude to express their faith at work, which means that people spend some of their time at work thinking about God. Yet, we know little about how doing so might impact task performance. As a creativity researcher, I thus wanted to know whether believing in and thinking about God affects people’s creativity,” said study author Verena Krause, an assistant professor at the University College London School of Management.
After examining data from the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, a nationally representative sample of 35,957 adults, and records published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the researchers found that states with more religious believers tended to have a reduced patent output in the years 2007 to 2012 compared to states with less religious believers. This was true even after controlling for education levels, income, median age of the population, and the number of and quality of universities in each state.
But this finding only established that belief in God was correlated with a single measure of creativity.
To establish causality and rule out alternative explanations, the researchers conducted a series of five experiments, which included 313 participants from Israel and 1,537 participants from the United States. In the studies, the participants were randomly assigned to a God-prime or a control-prime condition before completing an assessment of creativity.
Krause and her team found that belief in God was associated with reduced creative ability, but only when a religious individual had been directed to actively think about God. Thinking about God did not appear to reduce the creativity of non-believers. “Our findings were replicated using different manipulations of thinking about God, different sample populations, and using both convergent and divergent measures of creativity, with both having important counterparts in the workplace,” the researchers noted.
A passive followership mindset appeared to play a key role in the relationship between thinking about God and creativity. Thinking about God was associated with feeling directed, led, guided, and devoted among believers, which in turn was associated with reduced creativity.
“The main takeaway of our studies is that people who believe in one God may feel like they are passive followers of their God when they are thinking about Him, which in turn may lead them to be less creative,” Krause told PsyPost. “It is important to note though that believers are not inevitably less creative but only when they are thinking about their God. If they are not thinking about their God, they may be just as creative as non-believers. Thus, given that creativity is important in many professions it might be advisable for believers to not think about their God while attempting to be creative.”
But the findings come with a few caveats. The study only included monotheistic believers (mostly Christians, Jews, and Muslims) and non-believers. It is unclear how well the results generalize to those who follow polytheistic religions, such as Hinduism.
“What we do not know yet is whether people who believe in many Gods can feel like passive followers when they are thinking about their Gods and whether they, too, are less creative under these circumstances,” Krause explained. “Furthermore, it would be interesting to find circumstances under which believers are more creative than non-believers. For example, would believers be more creative if they felt like God gave them the mission to be creative?”
“There is very little research published on the effects of one’s religious beliefs on one’s work life. Given that people do not forget about their beliefs once they enter their organizations, this lack of research is unfortunate,” Krause added. “Also, I do not want believers to be discouraged by the results of our research. As I mentioned before, believers are not inevitably less creative and do not inevitably feel like passive followers.”
The study, “Divine inhibition: Does thinking about God make monotheistic believers less creative?“, was authored by Verena Krause, Jack A. Goncalo, and Carmit T. Tadmor.