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There are plenty of things to be gained from going abroad: new friends, new experiences, new stories. Writers and thinkers have long felt the creative benefits of international travel.

In recent years, psychologists and neuroscientists have begun examining more closely what many people have already learned anecdotally: that spending time abroad may have the potential to affect mental change. In general, creativity is related to neuroplasticity, or how the brain is wired. Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning they’re also sensitive to change: New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind.

Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of numerous studies on the connection between creativity and international travel. Cognitive flexibility is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas, a key component of creativity. But it’s not just about being abroad, Galinsky says: “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.” In other words, going to Cancun for a week on spring break probably won’t make a person any more creative. But going to Cancun and living with local fishermen might.

In Galinsky’s latest study, published last month in the Academy of Management Journal, he and three other researchers examined the experiences of the creative directors of 270 high-end fashion houses. Combing through 11 years’ worth of fashion lines, Galinsky and his team searched for links between the creative directors’ experience working abroad and the fashion houses’ “creative innovations,” or the degree “to which final, implemented products or services are novel and useful from the standpoint of external audiences.” The level of creativity of a given product was rated by a pool of trade journalists and independent buyers. Sure enough, the researchers found a clear correlation between time spent abroad and creative output: The brands whose creative directors had lived and worked in other countries produced more consistently creative fashion lines than those whose directors had not.

Source: For a More Creative Brain, Travel