A new study by psychologists at Northwestern University suggests that naturally creative thinkers find it more difficult than others to block out distractions.

The psychologists asked participants of varying ages to memorise names and faces while listening to music, and found a correlation between the career of the participant and a decline in their ability to recall information when music was a factor. Workers in art and design, for example, showed a noticeably lower ability to remember information when music was playing, finding that their brain more naturally focused on external stimuli than less creative figures.

The researchers concluded that creative thinkers have ‘leakier’ sensory filters; stimuli that the majority of the population filters out as irrelevant becomes stuck in creative’s minds, with the researchers arguing that many of history’s greatest minds had such leaky sensory filters, enabling some of their greatest discoveries. English students should consider Kafka’s famous saying “I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’ — that wouldn’t be enough — but like a dead man” to see how many infamous hermit authors this research might apply to. Psychology and Medicine students should also consider the overlap between this leaky sensory filters and ADHD symptoms to gauge how creativity may be partnered with hyperfocus and a large intake of sensory data as typical of people with ADHD.

The study also found that the ability to be distracted was also linked to age. College age adults showed no difference in their ability to recall information when music was playing, while older adults showed a 10% decline in ability when there was background music. Working in silence, or listening to background white or pink noise, is therefore recommended for any easily distracted students, rather than music.

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