People who have autism have higher levels of creativity, a new study by researchers in the UK has shown. The findings may help shift the perception of individuals diagnosed with autism to a more positive one.
The study also found that while people with high degrees of autistic traits did not excel at producing alternative solutions to a problem, i.e. divergent thinking, they did generate unique and creative ideas.
The study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, was co-authored by Dr. Martin Doherty of University of East Anglia’s School of Psychology. The researchers conducted an online survey of 312 people, asking whether they had autism and assessing if they had some traits of the disorder, even if they hadn’t been diagnosed with it.
Participants’ creativity was tested by looking for interpretations of images intended to be seen more than one way, a picture, for example, that might be viewed as either a horse or a cow. Next they gave participants one minute to name as many possible uses as they could think of for simple objects like bricks or paper clips.
The results showed that those who reported that they have autistic traits, and those who suffered from autism, typically came up with less options but more interesting responses than people without autism.
Lead author Dr. Catherine Best of the University of Stirling in the U.K., in an email to Reuters Health, wrote:
“We think that perhaps the people with autistic traits use more effortful methods to produce answers to divergent thinking tasks (not based on obvious word associations or common uses for similar items) and therefore come up with fewer but better responses.”
The researchers wrote the results help explain why some of the most famous people with autism are in creative fields. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that around 1% of the population may have autism spectrum disorder.
Catherine Best, Shruti Arora, Fiona Porter, Martin Doherty The Relationship Between Subthreshold Autistic Traits, Ambiguous Figure Perception and Divergent Thinking Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders doi: 10.1007/s10803-015-2518-2