Dating Someone from Another Country Can Make You More Creative
John Lennon and Yoko Ono, December 1968. Photo by Susan Wood/Getty Images.
In seeking out a romantic partner, we often hope to find love, companionship, intimacy, and support. But what if your significant other could also inspire your artistic practice? A recent study has proven that theory—specifically, that dating someone from another country can make you more creative.
Social psychologist and Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky has been studying the link between creativity and experiencing foreign cultures for around a decade, he explained. For his first study, which was based on his hunch that immersion in foreign culture and creativity were linked, he asked a class of MBA students to answer questions on their experiences living and traveling abroad; then, they each solved a creativity problem. “We found that when they had lived abroad, and the longer they lived abroad, the more likely they were to solve this creativity problem,” Galinsky explained, “but travel abroad had no effect.”
He and his colleagues were intrigued by the findings—that the deep learning that comes with prolonged immersion in another culture could enhance a person’s creativity. His next major study looked at leading fashion houses around the world, over the course of 21 seasons, and the relationship between the most creative lines—as defined by the French trade magazine Journal du Textile—and the amount of time that the respective creative directors had spent living abroad. They found that “when the creative director had lived abroad or worked abroad, they were more likely to be creative,” Galinsky said. The most important predictor of creative thinking, he explained, was the depth of their experience abroad.
The most recent study, which was conducted by Galinsky and five other researchers, took these ideas a step further by seeking to prove that the experience of dating someone from another country, over time, causes enhanced creativity. Their findings, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, drew on four different experiments and various means of measuring creativity, to investigate how being involved romantically with a person from a foreign culture over an extended period of time can, according to the study, “help people ‘go out’ of the box and into a creative frame of mind.”
In the first experiment, researchers tracked 115 students enrolled in a 10-month international MBA program. At the beginning and the end of the program, participants were asked to take a creativity test with three different tasks used for measuring convergent and divergent thinking, assets that are widely associated with creativity. At the end of the program, participants were asked, “Did you date anyone from a culture other than your own while at the program?” and 22 percent (24 students) said yes. Researchers found, across all of the creativity measures, “participants who dated individuals from other cultures exhibited superior creative performance” at the end of the MBA program.
The second experiment sought to find a causal link between creativity and intercultural relationships by asking participants to reflect on their past dating experiences. They worked with 128 participants who had all been in relationships both with people from their home country (the United States) and a foreign country. Participants were asked to write about their dating experiences, describing their partners as specifically as possible, then they were asked to take a creativity test. Researchers found that participants had superior creative performance on the test when reflecting on their intercultural relationships, and concluded that “intercultural dating promotes creativity because it allows for cultural learning.”
The third portion of the study sought to analyze how the number and duration of intercultural relationships affects a person’s creativity. For this part, researchers worked with 163 participants who were asked to take a creativity test and report their past relationships (both intercultural and intracultural), including how long each one had lasted. Confirming what previous research suggested, the experiment found that the duration of an intercultural relationship was the critical factor that could predict greater creativity.
“I think one of the cool things about all of these studies is that they all start to go toward the scientific truth,” Galinsky said, “which is that the depth of the experience of people in other countries is a strong predictor of creativity.”
Researchers found that the same cannot be said of intercultural friendships. “Dating is a deep relationship, you have to learn more about the other culture,” Galinsky explained. “You meet their family, for example, you try to be considerate of their family’s culture and so you have to learn about it, find what’s appropriate and inappropriate.” That element of deep learning, he explained, is not the same with intercultural friendships. But, as you might expect, the correlation does hold true for the children of parents from two different countries, which Galinsky had encountered during his study of creative directors at fashion houses.
Importantly, researchers were able to prove their theory using various different tasks used to measure creativity. “No matter how we measure creativity it had the exact same effect,” Galinsky said, “that dating someone from another culture increased creativity—which really shows how transformative that experience was.”