The Null Device

Love, sex and creativity

Psychological experiments at the University of Amsterdam have found connections between romantic love and creative thinking and sex and analytical thinking:
The clever experiments demonstrated that love makes us think differently in that it triggers global processing, which in turn promotes creative thinking and interferes with analytic thinking. Thinking about sex, however, has the opposite effect: it triggers local processing, which in turn promotes analytic thinking and interferes with creativity.
Why does love make us think more globally? The researchers suggest that romantic love induces a long-term perspective, whereas sexual desire induces a short-term perspective. This is because love typically entails wishes and goals of prolonged attachment with a person, whereas sexual desire is typically focused on engaging in sexual activities in the "here and now". Consistent with this idea, when the researchers asked people to imagine a romantic date or a casual sex encounter, they found that those who imagined dates imagined them as occurring farther into the future than those who imagined casual sex.
A global processing style promotes creative thinking because it helps raise remote and uncommon associations. Consider, for example, the act of finding a gift for your partner. If we think about a gift while in a local mindset, then we’ll probably focus on more literal and concrete options, most of which involve a tangible object wrapped in colorful paper. We’ll probably consider the usual suspects, such as a watch, a book, or perfume. However, thinking about a gift more globally might inspire us to consider a gift as "anything that will make him/her happy". This may, in turn, bring to mind more diverse and original ideas, such as going on a joint vacation, writing a song, or cleaning and remodeling the house. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should always think globally. While local processing might interfere with creativity, it also promotes analytic thinking, which requires us to apply logical rules. For example, if you are looking for a piece of furniture in a big display according to a pre-defined list of criteria (e.g., size, color, price), a local mindset may help you find a match, by preventing you from being side-tracked by attractive but irrelevant options and by making you pay more attention to relevant details.
I wonder how this ties into other things, such as holism and reductionism. Or wiether there's a correlation between short-term thinking and a prevalence of sexualised imagery/metaphors.

There are 2 comments on "Love, sex and creativity":

Posted by: Greg Thu Oct 1 21:25:13 2009

One possible danger of this article would be for the reader to assume that creative = better, so it's good that the author (briefly) reminds us that this is not so. Since the thought-modes here labeled 'creative' and 'analytic' can clearly be triggered by context, neither is harder to do, and both are straightforwardly achievable by the brain at a given moment - the engineering trick to be solved by evolution is putting machinery in place to decide which to employ in which context. Saying 'creative is good' (like some interpreters might) would be analogous to saying that the giraffe's neck should be 5m longer - there would be a benefit, but clearly the cost must outweigh it, or evolution would have done it already.

Posted by: Greg Sat Oct 3 20:06:59 2009

Gee that comment was a ramble wasn't it? What I'm trying to do is make a pre-emptive argument against the inevitable self-help/management articles headed "How to be more creative" that will be inspired by this research. My reason: If anything, this research shows that creativity is not an achievement, but a brain-state that is adopted when the context makes it appropriate. It would be no smarter to make someone 'creative' all the time (regardless of context) than to make them 'pain free' when context makes it inappropriate.