Ted Presley (Founder)

Studying Abroad and Creativity: Is there a Link?

by Ted Presley | February 24, 2010 | Ted Presley (Founder) 0 Comments

According to a study conducted by INSEAD’s William D. Maddux in collaboration with Adam D. Galinsky from Northwestern University, there is sufficient scientific evidence to support the idea that studying abroad does indeed increase an individual’s level of creativity.

For the past several years, creativity has been on the rise as a characteristic that is greatly sought after in today’s highly competitive job market. As a matter of fact, according to a survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 71% of present day employers list this quality among its top three qualities when considering a potential employee. It is thus extremely important for today’s college students to have experiences that allow them to improve their creative abilities.

Maddux, an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD (European Institute of Business Administration), a multi-campus international graduate business school and research institution well-known as one of the leading business schools in the world, published his research  titled “Cultural Borders and Mental Barriers: The Relationship Between Living Abroad and Creativity” in 2009. He discusses his findings with Adrian Dearnell in a live interview conducted for INSEAD’s Knowledge series, a web portal showcasing research from INSEAD’s distinguished faculty. The video of this interview is as below:

The findings Maddux’s research showed that people who have lived abroad were more creative than those who haven’t. In fact, his research also found that the length of time spent living abroad also contributes to an increase in creativity. However, the defining element in whether or not one’s experience abroad enhances creativity is greatly reliant on how much an individual chooses to engage with the foreign culture that he or she is living in. The level of adaptation is a crucial element. The more people had adapted while they were abroad, the more creative they tended to become. In other words, short stints traveling abroad or living abroad without engaging the culture does not help boost creativity because there is “insufficient psychological transformation”.

Maddux does, however, acknowledge that living abroad is not the be all and end all when it comes to creativity. He believes that his research has provided strong scientific evidence that living abroad helps build creativity but he is also not afraid to admit that one can develop creativity within a single culture that is diverse and values creativity. He points to the American culture as an example of this: Americans have had a long track record for excellence in entrepreneurship, a field that requires high levels of creativity; yet at the same time, Americans also have a reputation for being isolationist, seeing that only 10% of Americans have passports. However, as a culture, Americans greatly value individualism and promote of innovation. These character traits of American culture serve to compensate for its citizens’ lack of experiences living abroad.

ELI 360 believes that its students need to see the two-fold implications of this study: First, that living abroad indeed has a strong effect on one’s creativity. In addition, ELI 360 encourages its students to be as engaged as possible during their time in university here in America seeing that adaptation breeds creativity. Secondly, ELI 360 believes in the quality of the American university education. The cultural trait that is shown to promote innovation and creativity is one that is strongly evident in all of ELI 360’s partner universities.

* For those who are interested in tracking down this journal article, here is the non-APA, non-Chicago Manual of Style citation:

“Cultural Borders and Mental Barriers: The Relationship Between Living Abroad and Creativity” by William W. Maddux from INSEAD and Adam D. Galinsky from Northwestern University published in theJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 96, No. 5, 1047-1061 (2009)

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