Stephen Baker

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Are expats more creative?

May 27, 2009General

Francisco Franco's funeral, 1975 (I attended as a student living in Spain)

Jonah Lehrer discusses a study claiming that people who live or have lived abroad display greater creativity. As one who's spent about 14 years in foreign countries, I'd love to believe it. But Lehrer punches all kinds of holes in the argument, including a crucial one between causation and correlation.

My question: Did researchers find a difference among people who went to more foreign and less foreign places? Someone moving for a year or two from Michigan to Ontario presumably wouldn't have to work the same adaptive muscles as someone who settles in Afghanistan or lives among the Yanamamo in Brazil.

And then think of all those Europeans who move across borders in their increasingly national continent. The differences used to be profound. When I first lived in Spain, in the '70s, crossing the border into France was a big deal. They were two very different countries, politically, linguistically and culturally. Now they have lots more in common. And think of a Swedes moving today to Amsterdam or London. Not much adaptation required.

So, the bigger question: As cultural barriers fall and moving around gets easier for us, will our creativity shrivel?

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