Experts have their own opinions on whether creativity can be taught, but new research has found an underlying component of creativity that can – without question – be taught: emotional intelligence.
A research team, led by Sergio Agnoli, at the Marconi Institute for Creativity in Italy sought out to in find the answer to one question: How can some people produce “outstanding creative products” despite repeated failures? The answer, the researchers suggest, lies in the person’s ability to regulate his or her emotions.
The team’s research, which was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, suggests that higher creativity is linked to emotional self-awareness that allows the artists to soldier on through the ups and downs of the creative process.
The team took 42 undergraduates and asked them to fill out a questionnaire to discern their baseline of emotional intelligence. The participants were then asked to take a 35-40-minute test during which they were asked to come up with as many uses as possible for common items shown on a computer screen. They worked through 15 items in total.
Researchers threw in a few curve balls to evaluate the person’s emotional intelligence. They tracked the participant’s distractibility by placing other common objects on the screen’s periphery. Using eye-tracking software, they were able to determine how many times the participant looked at the distracting objects.
A message also flashed periodically that informed the participant whether the creativity of their answer high or low.
For participants who were stressed – those told their creativity was weak – the distractions on the screen decreased creative performance. For those with high emotional intelligence, the distracting stimuli proved to enhance the creative process.
Ultimately, the research suggests that seemingly irrelevant stimuli can actually enhance the creative process if the individual knows how to treat these objects as helpful. Those who become stressed about the idea of failure have a much more difficult time viewing the stimuli as anything but distracting.
It is possible to teach emotional intelligence, although it is far more effective when taught to children. For adults, there are self-help books for emotional intelligence, but one has to be thoroughly invested in making a change for these strategies to be effective in the long-term.
The prospect of enhancing creativity through higher emotional intelligence may give some adults the incentive to change. When people are in charge of their emotions, i.e. have a higher level of emotional intelligence, it makes life less stressful for everyone.