Anti-ebook device-hating Luddites are probably not going to like to hear this, but a new piece of research suggests that the kind of distractions from email, social media, and other extraneous inputs that they rail against may actually boost your creativity. The study, entitled “Creativity and sensory gating indexed by the P50: Selective versus leaky sensory gating in divergent thinkers and creative achievers,” published in Neuropsychologia by the Northwestern University team of  Darya L. Zabelina, Daniel O’Leary, Narun Pornpattananangkul, Robin Nusslock, and Mark Beeman, has found evidence that an openness to distraction “may help people integrate ideas that are outside of focus of attention, leading to creativity in the real world.”

Admittedly, this study is based on a very specific and fairly narrow test and definition of attention: the  P50, “is an event related potential occurring approximately 50 ms after the presentation of a stimulus, usually an auditory click. The P50 response is used to measure sensory gating, or the reduced neurophysiological response to redundant stimuli.” Sensory gating itself is the “neurological processes of filtering out redundant or unnecessary stimuli in the brain from all possible environmental stimuli” which “prevents an overload of irrelevant information in the higher cortical centers of the brain.” But the study concludes that”creative achievement is associated with ‘leaky’ sensory gating,” where the brain is not so perfect at screening out extraneous stimuli.

So the Jonathan Franzens of this world, with their achingly committed creative gimping and their loathing of social media and other distractions from their high calling, may in fact be pursuing exactly the opposite path required to unlock real creativity and left-field inspiration in their work. Now does that make sense, maybe…?


  1. From my personal experience working with students and other writers, I believe that distractions in the form of multiple devices might not harm creativity, but it destroys creating from that creativity.

    Writing something even as short as a poem or an article takes focus and butt in chair. Anyone with multiple distractions in any form can’t focus properly. Add to that the addiction to the devices most people have, and the situation is pretty dire.

    Even if a person is able to create in a situation like this, she is unable to focus enough to rewrite or rework to the point of having a decent piece of work. Instead, she’s off to the next new bit of garbage.

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