Living abroad helps people expand their experiences and also their minds, according to an international study into the link between moving to another country and creativity.
The research, published by the American Psychological Association, consisted of five studies involving students at Paris' Sorbonne University, at INSEAD, a business school with campuses in France and Singapore and at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in the United States.
Researchers said that although the studies show a strong relationship between living abroad and creativity, they do not prove that living abroad and adapting to a new culture actually cause people to be more creative.
"This research may have something to say about the increasing impact of globalization on the world, a fact that has been hammered home by the recent financial crisis," said the study's lead author, William Maddux, assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD.
"Knowing that experiences abroad are critical for creative output makes study abroad programs and job assignments in other countries that much more important, especially for people and companies that put a premium on creativity and innovation."
In one study, MBA students at the Kellogg School were asked to solve the Duncker candle problem, a classic test of creative insight in which individuals are presented with three objects on a table placed next to a cardboard wall: a candle, a pack of matches and a box of tacks.
The task is to attach the candle to the wall so that the candle burns properly and does not drip wax on the table or the floor and the correct solution involves using the empty box of tacks as a candleholder, and then tack it to the wall.
The solution is considered a measure of creative insight because it involves the ability to see objects as performing different functions from what is typical and the results showed that the longer students had spent living abroad, the more likely they were to come up with the solution.
The findings appear in the May issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.