The cost of creativity

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Intense focus can help creative people achieve success, but it may undermine their capacity for flexible thinking, new research suggests.

The Northwestern University study included 74 college students with extremely high or low scores on a questionnaire about their achievements in creative fields such as writing, music, cooking and science.

Participants were given challenges in study

Each participant was given a series of 128 challenges in which they had one second to accurately identify either the details or the large picture. In these challenges, the students had to focus on the details before quickly shifting their attention to see the bigger picture, and vice versa.

After accounting for differences in intelligence and reaction speed, the researchers found that students with high levels of creative achievement made more mistakes (9% of the challenges) than less creative students (2%).

The study was published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology.

Some experts have suggested that creativity partly depends on a person's ability to continuously switch attention between the details and bigger picture of a given task. But this study suggests that certain creatively successful people may focus so much on one aspect that they have difficulty switching to another.

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