If the sound of someone chewing and chomping on their meal makes you want to scream, then take comfort in this - your aversion to distracting noise might just mark you out as a genius.
A new study from Northwestern University has found that the inability to filter out competing sensory information is a common occurence in creative geniuses.
The report references intellectuals such as Charles Darwin, Russian physician Anton Chekhov and French novelist Marcel Proust who were all unable to cope with sensory distraction.
Proust would become so annoyed by the noise he was unable to filter out that he wore ear-stoppers and lined his bedroom with cork to block out noise whilst he worked.
“I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’ -- that wouldn’t be enough -- but like a dead man,” he once said.
The study of 100 participants found that those who appeared to be creative geniuses suffered “leaky” sensory gating, meaning a reduced ability to filter sensory information.
Researchers tested participants using two measures for creativity: a divergent thinking test, which asked participants to provide as many answers as they could to several unlikely scenarios within a limited amount of time, and a 'Creative Achievement Questionnaire' where participants reported their real-life creative achievements.
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While higher divergent thinking correlated with an increased ability to filter noise, the results to the questionnaire showed that those with creative achievements showed a reduced ability to screen or inhibit noise from their awareness.
“If funneled in the right direction, these sensitivities can make life more rich and meaningful, giving experiences more subtlety,” said Zabelina, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Northwestern.