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Are people biased against creative ideas?

Studies on bias against creative ideas show that uncertainty makes us less able to recognize creativity, perhaps when we need it most.

Two experiments at the University of Pennsylvania involving 200 people showed that people are biased against creative ideas in the face of uncertainty and when more practical and unoriginal options are available. The researchers recommend that creative thinkers – in the face of bias – shift their focus from generating more creative ideas to discovering how to help innovative institutions recognize and accept creativity.

Results of the study will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science, as announced by Cornell University on August 25, 2011.

Results of new research may explain why creative thinkers feel frustration when trying to gain acceptance for their ideas. Image Credit: qthomasbower

Jennifer Mueller (University of Pennsylvania), Shimul Melwani (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and Jack Goncalo (Cornell University) cite studies revealing that organizations, scientific institutions, and decision-makers routinely reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as an important goal. Similarly, research documents that teachers dislike students who exhibit curiosity and creative thinking even though teachers acknowledge creativity as an important educational goal.

The authors write:

We offer a new perspective to explain this puzzle. Just as people have deeply-rooted biases against people of a certain age, race or gender that are not necessarily overt, so too can people hold deeply-rooted negative views of creativity that are not openly acknowledged.

Goncalo asked:

How is it that people say they want creativity but in reality often reject it?

Are you biased against creative ideas and unaware of it? Research indicates you may be passing over good ideas in favor of something readily available and less original. Image Credit: mr_dissing

In their studies, the researches discovered these points:

  • Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.
  • People dismiss creative ideas in favor of ideas that are purely practical – tried and true.
  • Objective evidence shoring up the validity of a creative proposal does not motivate people to accept it.
  • Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea.

To uncover bias against creativity, the researchers used a subtle technique to measure unconscious bias – the kind that people may not want to admit, such as a bias against race, gender or age. Their results revealed that while people explicitly claimed to desire creative ideas, they actually associated creative ideas with negative words such as vomit, poison and agony.

Goncalo said this bias caused subjects to reject new product ideas that were novel and high-quality. The authors commented:

Our findings imply a deep irony.

Acknowledging that uncertainty drives the search for and generation of creative ideas, the authors wrote:

Uncertainty also makes us less able to recognize creativity, perhaps when we need it most. Revealing the existence and nature of a bias against creativity can help explain why people might reject creative ideas and stifle scientific advancements, even in the face of strong intentions to the contrary. The field of creativity may need to shift its current focus from identifying how to generate more creative ideas to identifying how to help innovative institutions recognize and accept creativity.

Bottom line: Researchers Jennifer Mueller (University of Pennsylvania), Shimul Melwani (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and Jack Goncalo (Cornell University) completed two experiments involving 200 people, showing that in the face of uncertainty and the availability of practical and unoriginal options, people exhibited a bias against creative ideas. Results of the study will appear in an upcoming 2011 issue of the journal Psychological Science, as announced by Cornell University on August 25, 2011.

Read more at Cornell University Chronicle Online

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