Newly published research provides the best evidence yet that studying overseas boosts one’s creativity. The study titled “On the Cognitive Benefits of Cultural Experience: Exploring the Relationship between Studying Abroad and Creative Thinking” was conducted by three scholars at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
“Cultural experiences from living abroad have wide-reaching benefits on students’ creativity, including the facilitation of complex cognitive processes that promote creative thinking,” according to the researchers in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.
A review in Pacific Standard magazine provides an overview of the research, which has demonstrated that a semester abroad leads to higher creativity scores on two different tests.
The link between studying abroad and enhanced creativity was first made in a 2009 paper, which found students who spent time overseas were more likely to come up with innovative insights. However, it didn’t quite establish causality. The authors couldn’t say for certain that the experience was transformative, admitting it was possible that people who choose to study outside their home country are more creative to begin with.
To address that issue, the scholars from the University of Florida assembled three groups of undergraduate students from a large university in the American south: 45 who had studied abroad, 45 who were planning to study abroad (but had not yet done so), and 45 who had no interest in studying abroad. All completed two creativity tests.
The first, the Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults, measures general creativity. Participants are asked to draw a pair of pictures using specific guidelines, and to discuss “the troubles they might encounter if they could walk on air.” Creativity was judged by the number of answers they came up with, their originality, level of detail, and the flexibility of thinking they demonstrated.
In the second test, which was devised by the Florida team, participants were asked to generate as many ideas as possible in a series of challenges. This “cultural creativity task” included such problems as “Suppose you wake up tomorrow with a different skin color. What changes might this create in your life?” Creativity was judged by both the number of responses and their originality.
On both tests, the students who had studied abroad “significantly outperformed” members of the other two groups. On the second, those who had spent time studying overseas generated “ideas and solutions that were richer in description, detail and humour” than their classmates – including those who were predisposed to studying abroad, and planned to do so.
According to the researchers, this strongly suggests that “the actual immersion in a foreign culture” boosts one’s creativity, and the “findings indicate that studying abroad supports cognitive processes involved in developing innovative solutions.”
Looking for more benefits of studying abroad? Check out the infographic below for a visual profile of the study abroad industry.