Intense focus can help creative people achieve success, but
it may undermine their capacity for flexible thinking, new research suggests.
The Northwestern University study included 74 college
students with extremely high or low scores on a questionnaire about their
achievements in creative fields such as writing, music, cooking and science.
given challenges in study
Each participant was given a series of 128 challenges in
which they had one second to accurately identify either the details or the
large picture. In these challenges, the students had to focus on the details
before quickly shifting their attention to see the bigger picture, and vice
After accounting for differences in intelligence and
reaction speed, the researchers found that students with high levels of
creative achievement made more mistakes (9% of the challenges) than less
creative students (2%).
The study was published in the journal Frontiers of
Some experts have suggested that creativity partly depends
on a person's ability to continuously switch attention between the details and
bigger picture of a given task. But this study suggests that certain creatively
successful people may focus so much on one aspect that they have difficulty
switching to another.