To be creative, it helps to cheat

Posted on February 6, 2014

Photo: flickr

FROM James Moriarty to Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the idea of the evil genius has been a staple of storytelling. But is it true? Or, to put the matter less starkly, is there a connection between creativity and dishonesty in real people who are not bent on world domination, as well as in fictional supervillains? Writing in Psychological Science, Francesca Gino of Harvard University and Scott Wiltermuth of the University of Southern California suggest that there is—and that cheating actually increases creativity.

Dr Gino and Dr Wiltermuth tested the honesty of 153 volunteers with a task that involved adding up numbers for a cash reward, which was presented in a way that seemed to them to allow them to cheat undetected (though the researchers knew when they did). This was sandwiched between two tests for creativity, one of which was to work out how to fix a candle to a cardboard wall with a box of drawing pins*, and the other a word-association test. This combination showed not only that creative people cheat more, but also that cheating seems to encourage creativity—for those who cheated in the adding-up test were even better at word association than their candle-test results predicted.

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Category(s):Creative Blocks

Source material from Economist