Related Article: How Society Affects Creativity
As mentioned above, experiencing social rejection is one of the common causes for people to feel there is something inherently different about them ...
In a study conducted at John Hopkins University, some participants were told by the researchers that they were “not picked” to work with the group, while others were not snubbed the same way. There was no real group, the aim was just to make part of the participants feel left out and alienated. Afterward, the two groups were asked to complete a few exercises on paper.
One of them, for example, was to imagine and draw an alien from a different planet, as different as possible from our own species. The non-rejected participants drew standard cartoonish type aliens, while the rejected ones came up with ideas for creatures radically different to humans - in other words, their drawings were more creative. Overall, the outcasts performed better on all of the tasks they were given. The outcome of this experiment, then, meant there is a clear link between social rejection and the ability to think outside the box. It is not, however, a clear-cut rule of thumb, and it also depends on the degree to which the individuals already saw themselves as different or independent throughout their lives.
Another variable that can enhance creativity is being considered an outsider in your culture. People who are exposed to a new culture during their lives, in situations of immigration, for instance, develop an element of creativity called ‘integrative complexity’. Integrative complexity enhances the ability to handle uncertainty and reconcile conflicting information. People who have highly developed integrative complexity manage to see and understand an issue from multiple perspectives, like children who better understand the angle of adults.
In a famous 1950s experiment conducted by Solomon Asch, participants were asked to match a line with three other lines. They were three times more likely to give the wrong answer when other members of the groups, confederates of the researchers, all agreed on the wrong answer, too. When one participant was later asked why he gave the answer that he did, his explanation was that he did not want to seem ‘peculiar’.
This exercise can teach us a lot about the power of conformity and the courage it takes to be exposed as ‘weird’. In another variation of the experiment, one of the confederates gave the right answer, while the rest tried to convince him he was the one mistaken. The fact that there was just one person going against the tide lowered conformity levels among the responses by about 80 percent!
These findings are not only interesting and important because they shed light on how the human mind works, but they can also be a hopeful reminder in times when you feel out of your depth.
Feeling like the odd one out is sometimes a vital experience capable of triggering creativity and insight.