Rejection a powerful stimulantBy Massie Santos Ballon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
There’s a story making the rounds this week involving a Chinese farmer who lost his hands and forearms several years ago when the explosive he was working on for use in fishing went off too early. After recovering from his injuries, he still had to find a way to work on the family farm, but he couldn’t afford the prosthetic arms offered by the hospital.
Undaunted, the farmer spent the next eight years making his own prosthetic hands, with metal arm “sleeves” that he can grip from inside. While the arms are said to be heavier than those commercially available, and the metal can be painful when the weather is too hot or too cold, they have made it possible for the farmer to once more be productive.
Aside from the fact that he managed to build these replacement hands, complete with fingers, from scrap parts, the story is made even more remarkable by the fact that he was able to assemble these prosthetics without having working hands of his own. The sentiments of creativity fueled by independent thinking in the farmer’s story echo conclusions from a recent study by American researchers, though the latter were motivated by different reasons.
In the study recently accepted for publication by the Journal of Experimental Psychology, the researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Cornell University suggested that people who view themselves as different or more independent from the rest of society may be more creative when faced with rejection. While many people are lauded for marching to the beat of their own drums, being rejected for perceived differences does hurt, as evidenced by the increase in stories about children who’ve taken drastic measures to avoid being bullied at school.
“What we tried to show in our paper is that exclusion from a group can sometimes lead to a positive outcome when independently minded people are the ones being excluded,” said study lead author and Johns Hopkins University business professor Sharon Kim in a statement.
In their experiments, the researchers told participants that they would either be part of a group once they’d completed certain individual tasks, or else they’d been rejected from the group and would have to work alone. All of the tasks were designed to measure the creativity employed in problem-solving.
The results suggested that the people who’d been told they had been rejected displayed more creativity in their answers compared to the people who felt that they were part of a group. The researchers suggested that how a person views himself or herself in comparison to others could factor in to whether or not a rejection becomes cause for depression or a creative stimulant.
For example, creativity might be stifled when members of the group choose to focus on the collective goals, rather than focusing on their own personal desires. In the case of the Chinese farmer, the news stories about him don’t mention whether or not he felt rejected by his neighbors after losing his hands, but they do emphasize his need for new limbs to be able to work on the family farm.
“For people who already feel separate from the crowd, social rejection can be a form of validation,” said Kim. “Rejection confirms for independent people what they already feel about themselves—that they’re not like others. For such people, that distinction is a positive one leading them to greater creativity.”
E-mail the author at massie@ massie.com.
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