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Suzy Lake, “Suzy Lake as Gary William Smith” (1973–74), 10 gelatin silver prints, 94 x 67.3 cm each, collection of the artist (courtesy Georgia Scherman Projects, Toronto)

A recent study suggests that reflecting on the fluidity of identity can enhance creativity. “Thinking Outside the Box: Multiple Identity Mindsets Affect Creative Problem Solving,” which appeared in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, posits that subjects are better equipped to perform creative tasks directly after contemplating the range of social roles they occupy. Because creativity is linked with mental flexibility, we have an easier time innovating when we acknowledge the multiplicity of our own identities, for instance musing on our simultaneous roles as mothers, sisters, friends, businesswomen, and so on.

Inspired by past studies demonstrating that bicultural individuals tend to display more creativity, the researchers, led by Sarah Gaither of the University of Chicago, performed multiple experiments. In one, they asked a group of test subjects to write about their racial identities and noted that multiracial individuals performed better on a subsequent creativity test. In another, they expanded their results to include monoracial subjects, noting that “everyone, no matter their racial background, has multiple social identities.” In this test, subjects instructed to write about the multifaceted nature of social identity performed better on subsequent creativity tests than did members of the control group, who were instructed to write about their daily routines.

The researchers conclude that contemplating social identity increases creativity even in nonsocial contexts. They also concede there’s more work to be done — it’s not clear, for instance, whether more abstract, general reflections on the multiplicity of social identity would yield the same results, or whether individuals only display heightened creativity when they think about their own social roles. In any case, here’s some additional incentive for you to scrutinize your place in society.

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Becca Rothfeld

Becca Rothfeld is assistant literary editor of The New Republic and a contributor to The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Daily News’ literary blog, The Baffler, and...

2 replies on “Ponder Your Multiple Personalities, Get More Creative”

  1. I agree with this. Being empathetic to another viewpoint, be it around gender, field of study or culture, allows one to mentally “switch gears.” Somewhere in this process, the person with this ability can pick up on hidden assumptions, see aspects of a subject that are not immediately obvious, and make interesting connections between concepts that others might dismiss or ignore. I think these traits are some facets of the creative imagination.

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