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Sensitivity to Sound May Be a Sign of Creative Genius

A recent study has found a positive correlation between an individual’s sensitivity to sound and his or her creativity, suggesting that hypersensitive hearers possess a wider view of the world.

March 11, 2015

If you’ve ever wondered how on earth other people brush off the sound of a dripping faucet or ticking clock, you could be a highly sensitive or hypersensitive person — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Creative geniuses including Charles Darwin, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, and Marcel Proust were all uncomfortably sensitive to the noises around them, wearing earplugs and working in special areas to block out sound. New research conducted by psychologists at Northwestern University shows that this sound-creativity connection may not only pertain to these famous achievers.

A study, published in the March issue of Neuropsychologia, studied “sensory gating,” a mechanism that regulates how much information from the outside environment gets through to an individual’s awareness. People with “leaky” sensory gates have more trouble tuning out background noises in their environment. The study found that creative people — as gauged by an innovative-thinking test and by real-world achievements in the arts and sciences — were more sensitive to the sounds around them.

To test sound reception, the scientists measured the electrical activity in 97 participants’ brains while they played a series of beeps. This showed how much sound was filtered out and how much sound made it through to the participants’ awareness.

It may seem counterintuitive that the people most prone to distractions are also those with the most creative minds. However, the findings suggest that sensitivity to sound is linked to a broad scope of attention that allows people to take in information that others miss because their brain automatically filters it out. This allows them to have richer experiences, and make connections between concepts that appear only distantly related for others.

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