Intercultural Love Leads to More Creativity? Study by MIT Prof Says Yes

Creativity doesn’t usually come to mind when we think of intercultural love — but it should, thanks to the 2017 study from MIT assistant professor Jackson G. Lu titled “Going out” of the box: Close intercultural friendships and romantic relationships spark creativity, workplace innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Here’s a summary of the researchers’ findings from the study [emphasis added]:

…we found that close intercultural romantic relationships and friendships predicted important creative outcomes. As a two-phase longitudinal study, Study 1 found that MBA students who dated someone from another culture during their program performed better on both divergent and convergent forms of creativity at Phase 2 (accounting for creative performance at Phase 1 and other control variables). Using an experimental design, Study 2 revealed that reactivating a past intercultural dating experience led to higher creativity than reactivating a past intracultural dating experience; importantly, this effect was mediated by cultural learning. Comparing the duration versus the number of both intercultural and intracultural romantic relationships, Study 3 found that only the duration of intercultural relationships significantly predicted the ability of current employees to generate creative names for marketing products. Extending the preceding findings to the “Big C” creativity (Simonton, 1994), Study 4 found that professional repatriates’ frequency of contact with American friends positively predicted both entrepreneurship and workplace innovation back in their home countries….

Furthermore, the study offers some insightful advice about the importance of being deeply engaged and open to cultural differences [emphasis added]:

Importantly, the current findings suggest that people cannot simply “collect” intercultural relationships at a superficial level, but instead must engage in cultural learning at a deep level. When in an intercultural relationship, an individual should not eschew cultural differences but rather embrace them, because such differences enable one to discern and learn the underlying assumptions and values of both the foreign culture and the home culture (Cheng & Leung, 2013; Leung & Chiu, 2010). Without close social interactions, it can be difficult for individuals to juxtapose and synthesize different cultural perspectives to achieve cultural learning and produce creative insights.

Previously, I had written about Why Ignoring Cultural Differences in Cross-Cultural Relationships is Harmful, pointing out the negative consequences of this colorblind approach. But this study from Lu highlights the tremendous creative benefits that come from welcoming and exploring cultural differences in a thoughtful way, and the findings indicate that such advantages wouldn’t come to those who disregard cultural differences.

This fascinating research has also led me to reflect on my own intercultural relationship and the ways in which it may have boosted my creativity (such as the founding of this very blog). And I also thought about the many other creative folks I’ve encountered in intercultural relationships here in China, from bloggers and writers to entrepreneurs, artists and musicians. How much has their creative output benefited from loving outside the lines?

In any event, the study certainly stands as compelling evidence for why everyone should embrace meaningful intercultural ties in their lives, including romantic ones.

What do you think about this study?

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