What is it about a creative piece of work such as a painting or music that brings us feelings of awe and wonder?
Is it the thrill of being shown something new and different? Something the artist saw that we could not?
As Pablo Picasso put it:
“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.”
Recent research has suggested that open-minded people — those who regularly experience wonder and awe — actually see the world differently. Open-mindedness makes them more likely to experience certain visual perceptions.
Check out the video below where we explain this phenomenon. Or keep on reading if you prefer not to watch the video.
The research was published in the Journal of Research in Personality. The researchers from the University of Melbourne in Australia recruited 123 volunteers and gave them the big five personality test, which measures extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience.
This last personality trait involves being creative, imaginative and possessing a willingness to try new things.
They then tested who experienced a visual perceptual phenomenon called “binocular rivalry”. This happens when each eye is shown a different image from having red and green patches over each eye. The result is having different images being displayed to each eye.
Most people will switch back and forth between the two incompatible images, as the brain struggles to perceive the two images at the same time.
However, people who scored higher on openness were more likely to merge the two images into a unified red and green patch.
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This makes sense. Creative people combined the two images as a “creative solution” to the visual conflict they were experiencing. They did this sub-consciously, without effort.
Anna Antinori was the lead researcher and explains that we’re constantly filtering out what sensory information to focus on. She says:
“The ‘gate’ that lets through the information that reaches consciousness may have a different level of flexibility. Open people appear to have a more flexible gate and let through more information than the average person.”
This phenomenon also happens when people experience “inattentional blindness”. This is when people focus so hard on one feature of a movie scene that they fail to notice something completely obvious, such as in the video below (try it now before we reveal what happens below):
Around half of people are so busy watching the ball that they miss the man in a gorilla costume.
Though the research suggests that personality affects the way we conscious process our experience, it’s not entirely clear how this process works.
The authors of the study speculate that overlapping neurochemicals in the brain may link perception to personality.
There’s also research that shows that psilocybin (the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms) makes people more open.
While the mechanics behind creativity and open-mindedness are not completely known, it’s clear that there are methods for changing how we see the world.
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