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Thinking about God can make you less creative

Creativity and Innovation

According to some new research, being highly religious or even just thinking about god can make you less creative.

In a study entitled Divine inhibition: Does thinking about God make monotheistic believers less creative?, researchers conducted five experiments to see the impact which thinking about one’s belief in god had on the creative performance of individuals.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments with several hundred participants. One of the questions they were asked was simply “Do you believe in god?”, whatever their religion was. Several major religions including Christianity, Judaism and Islam were included, as were non-belivers. This was to analyse the statistical differences between believers and non believers.

But for several experiments, before the participants conducted a creativity-measuring experiment, they were prompted to either think actively about god or be in a control group which thought of a neutral topic. For example, in the group primed to think about god, they were asked to write a few paragraphs about:

“When people talk about God, they could mean a lot of things. We’re interested in your thoughts. What comes to mind when you think of God?”

Those in the control condition were given the following prompt:

“Please write about your day yesterday. For example, tell us where you were and what you did.”

This put people into either a netural (control) or god-primed mindset before they did the creativity test.

Results: the creativity tests clearly showed that for people who believed in god, those being primed to think about god not only solved fewer convergent thinking exercises, they also came up with fewer divergent thinking creative ideas.

So if you are religious, thinking about god makes you less creative.

The researchers indicate that this may be because religion and thinking about god train people to think in a “passive followership mindset”.

But also interestingly, the non-believers who were primed to think about god performed better on the creativity exercises than those primed to think of a neutral topic. It was as if writing about their lack of belief in god, or writing about the perspectives of other people and their religion, put them in a mindset to spark more ideas.

Last week, I wrote about creative stereotypes, and how people are more likely to think of someone as less creative if they are religious.

It turns out, this experiment indicates there might be some truth to that.

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