Will Burns

Unleash Creativity Blog

Scientific studies that help us unleash our most human attribute: creativity.

Children Teach Us Creativity And Inhibition Are Opposing Forces

A recent study from the University of Oregon found that, while children who had imaginary friends and even paracosms (imaginary worlds) exhibited higher levels of creativity, they struggled with inhibitory tasks that require focus. More evidence that an inability to focus does not mean a lack of intelligence, it just means a different kind of intelligence is at work.

The Study.

Researchers studied 92 children ages ranging from 8-12 years old. They asked the children in indirect ways—to avoid kids making up answers—whether or not they had imaginary friends and/or more elaborate paracosms.

Turns out only 17% of the children reported any experience with imaginary friends or worlds.

Photo by  Samuel Zeller  on  Unsplash

What’s interesting is that the kids were also asked to perform a creativity test following the interviews and those who were in that 17% performed significantly better than the other 83%. They were better at open-ended thinking. But it was at a cost.

Those same kids struggled with what the researchers call “inhibitory control tasks,” which effectively means executive function, or ability to focus.


I often talk about how these scientific studies I report on here on the Unleash Blog reveal some aspect of life, some stimulus, some whatever, that increases our creativity.

Might be sensory deprivation might be black tea, might be psychological distance, or even the smell of cinnamon. In nearly every single case, we can see how the stimulus could negatively influence our ability to focus, thereby increasing the influence of creativity.

The fact the kids in this study show signs of creativity at such a young age AND a deficiency in their ability to focus is further proof that this stuff is wired into us. It’s not how intelligent we are, it’s who we are.

Having been in advertising for 30 years now, I’ve seen my share of creative people. My joke is that the most creative people were probably the ones in the back of the classroom leaning back in their chairs shooting spitballs and making paper airplanes, but were also the most intelligent people in the class. They get in trouble for not conforming (not focusing, not paying attention, etc.), but conforming is not in their nature.

Creativity wants people to think different.

I hope studies like this further support and propel the work of people like Sir Ken Robinson who preach that our education system needs to evolve from an industrial age education that effectively teaches conformity to one that teaches and at least values creativity.

In fact, maybe just watch this: