You Should Get Out More

Living abroad gives expats greater creativity in problem solving, according to new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In an experiment, researchers gave subjects a box of tacks, a candle, and some matches. The subjects were asked to fix the candle to the wall in such a way that, when it was lit, no wax would drip onto the floor. Sixty percent of expats could solve the problem, versus 42 percent of those who’d never lived abroad. Another experiment asked subjects to draw an alien creature. Those who hadn’t lived abroad returned fairly ordinary creatures which closely resembled Earthbound lifeforms. Those who had lived abroad — well, see for yourself. It’s not just that more creative people are predisposed to living overseas; the study’s authors isolated personality traits known to be associated with creativity, and controlled for their presence or absence in their subjects. It’s the process of adapting to a new culture that seems to drive the creativity boost. Related: Travel Tips for Introverts. [%comments]


I think this study just shows that the type of people who travel abroad are probably more creative and intellegent than people who don't. I don't think the act of traveling really changes anything.


Seems to me the ones who were able to solve the problem were just better problem solvers, which may or may not have anything to do with creativity. Wouldn't a more accurate conclusion based on this test be that living abroad increases your problem-solving ability?

In fact, that's a more intuitive conclusion, as when you live abroad you need to figure out how everything works in your new country. You don't necessarily need to be more creative.


Maybe it's just that people who live abroad are wealthier than those who don't, and therefore probably had a better education growing up (private school, involved parents, more cultural experiences).


Traveling is an adaptive skill, and one that must be learned. Whether its overseas or not, people tend to distinguish themselves based on their travel experiences even for brief amounts of time. Culture shock has value beyond your adaptive skills ... it may just teach you a thing or two about problem solving in unfamiliar situations (i.e. learning).

women think

well, i guess it could be living abroad with a foreign language, too. And maybe a completely foreign language where you don't even clues from Latin or Germanic bases.

Actually i am starting to believe in the explorer gene, or the I am too bored to stay in my home gene.

Either way, it could be, too, that some people don't put effort in- on those tests, because their life does not depend on the outcome. I find them a challenge, but who has the time to open up my mind to that stuff. Why take a test when you can go out to a neighborhood in real life and see what it is like to get into a brain teaser or even be propositioned by foreign men? And how to get out of those kind of situations or get caught and learn from your mistakes.

Note to those willing to try this outside of your home: Build brawn before building brain in this case


Selection bias.


Correlation != causation. Perhaps creative people instead are more inclined to live abroad. Or wealthier folk can afford both travel and more education.


mexicans live abroad in this country and they aren't wealthy.


As an expat and moron when it comes to learning languages, I feel I am incredibly creative. It is a result of having to constantly play charades, pictionary and "restate that in a simpler form 900 times, please" to get by in daily life.


I read through the paper that was linked in the post, and a lot of the comments above seem to miss the amount of care that went into constructing and interpreting the five studies the researchers conducted.

The experiment mentioned in the post is but the first and simplest of the five. The authors make a strong case for their hypothesis that experience living abroad promotes creativity. In several of their studies, people who had lived abroad were divided into groups that were primed differently before participating in a creative activity.

Those groups of people primed by recalling, discussing, or writing about their experiences living abroad demonstrated more creativity in completing their tasks than those who were primed differently. The results seem pretty strong to me.


I understand and agree that people overseas tend to be more creative. I lived in 6 different countries, in Asia, Europe, North America, and in the Caribbean; all geographically distant and thus, culturally dissimilar. Hence, one, as guest to the country, must adapt to the way of life there. That is getting used to the time difference, not geographically speaking but for rendez-vous for instance. Or, customs, such as the way of driving, saluting (shaking hands, bowing, hugging); environment such as the weather (snowstorms, and strong rain during the hurricane season), the natural environment - mountains, forests, waterfalls; arts, such as paintings, buildings etc. Thus, people who lived abroad most likely be more creative with the "crazy" experience they had overseas.

Maya Frost

I have lived abroad for several years and I can tell you that it requires an adult to become far more creative and flexible at a time when we're used to being in control and not looking like idiots. It's humbling and brain-boosting at the same time. Then do it with four teenage daughters like my husband and I did and, well, that's some serious humility. (Especially when they soak up the language ten times more quickly!)

Absolutely NOT true that those who move abroad are wealthy. Most of the expats we know live on less than $20,000 per year and scrimp to get by, but they feel completely alive because they are required to be creative during nearly every waking moment. It's exhausting being a moron, but the benefits are worth it!

I even wrote a book about how spending time abroad is the greatest opportunity for our young people to develop flexibility and a host of other qualities that are very valuable in a global economy. And it's not for rich families only--a student in high school or college can spend a fantastic year abroad for less than $3,000 for everything. Learn more at



Frank Black did a semester abroad in Peurto Rico, when he came back he started The Pixies. 20+ years later, their music still sounds like something new.


As someone who has had his fair share of overseas living experience, I can definitely attest to the fact that living in another culture and seeing people live and go about doing common daily tasks and living everyday life in a different way makes you realize how confined and limited your previous viewpoint and thinking was.

Basically, travel has made me realize that there is not one "right" way to go about things. There are infinite possibilities, not confined to the box of your birth culture. Once you realize that there is no need to restrict yourself to whatever arbitrary "societal norms" you've been born into, then the creative possibilities begin to flow.


I'm amazed at the opinions people give without even reading the article.

Science Minded

My questions is- which came first--the creative potential or the living abroad?


Let me lead with an example:

Stereotyping Chinese people from the Chinese people who live in America is pretty ignorant. Why? Because they have left their homeland, set out for new adventures, saw new opportunities and obviously think different than Chinese who stayed in China. Ditto for Americans and every other race.

It's not that expats are smarter or more creative because of their experiences abroad. Their experiences abroad show that they have a natural inclination to do things differently than most people in their own culture.

I've lived in four countries on three continents in my short life so while this study is cute, it's looking at the situation entirely backwards. Living abroad didn't make me different. Wanting to leave America in the first place proved that.


Not all people who live abroad choose to do so. Some are refugees, some have forced transfers, and others are families/dependents of people who have chosen to move.


I don't know about creativity, but it definitely makes sense that people who have lived in more than one country would give different answers than someone who just lived in the US, or whereever really. Culture shapes your perception of the world you see around you, so having different cultural views to see things will give you different ways of looking at any one particular thing. The more immersed in your adopted culture you become, the more this holds true.

Oh and I've been living abroad for a few years now, and I would hardly characterize myself as rich. Happy yes, rich no.


Doesn't it take a bit of creativity to imagine, and then pursue, a life in a different place?

A handful of less creative types may manage to stumble or drift into an expat life, but I'd imagine this to be the exception.