All-natural inspiration: Study finds drugs fail to spark creativity and imagination

COLCHESTER, United Kingdom — Many musicians, authors, and other artists have endorsed the benefits of taking certain drugs when it comes to cultivating creativity, but researchers from the University of Essex and Humboldt University of Berlin are challenging the popular rock’n’roll myth that a creative breakthrough is just one dose away. Their study finds complex training programs, meditation, and exposure to culture are all better at sparking creativity than drugs.

Researchers even say drugs appear to be the least effective way of jumpstarting the imagination. Both alcohol and pharmaceutical amphetamines such as Adderall failed to influence inspiration. The team analyzed thousands of people to help expose the mysteries of creativity.

“We examined hundreds of papers to uncover the best ways to boost creativity and I hope the findings will help the growing number of people who rely on their creativity to earn a living,” says Dr. Paul Hanel, from Essex’s Department of Psychology, in a media release. “What worked best were complex training courses, meditation, and cultural exposure such as, studying abroad.”

“We believe it is a positive message that drugs do not enhance creativity, given the side effects of drugs.”

Man holding bag of cocaine
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The study shows that training which focuses on mental techniques that unpack the creative process have the best long-term impact. Moreover, mindfulness activities like meditation and open thinking also appear quite capable of boosting creativity in the short term.

Study authors also found visiting different countries and experiencing new cultures unconsciously expands someone’s horizons. Still, study authors note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to fostering creativity. Different people respond to different situations and techniques. All in all, researchers hope their work will help schools and employers better understand creative thinking.

“Although it once seemed the preserve of artists, creativity is everywhere in the modern world,” Dr. Hanel comments. “Everyone from family businesses through to giant companies needs to produce material to show their wares on social media. This could be the difference between success or failure for many people and I hope that this study will help them find inspiration.”

“There are many ways to enhance and encourage creative thinking,” concludes lead study author Jennifer Haase from Humboldt University of Berlin. “Creativity is not a skill to be learned and then applied. Creativity results much more from a situational fit between the cognitive mindset and the creative challenge.”

The study is published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics Creativity and the Arts.

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