Low Latent Inhibition

Every so often one comes across a concept that seems to set off an explosion of ideas. Visiting Grant McCracken‘s blog the other day provided one of them. The concept is Low Latent Inhibition. I’ll go on to McCracken’s take on the concept a bit later, but first we’ll get to the crunch.
McCracken links to an article in The Harvard Review by Craig Lambert, who describes the concept in the following way:
“In a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, lecturer on psychology Shelley Carson, Ph.D. ’01, Harvard graduate student Daniel Higgins, and Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto (formerly assistant professor of psychology at Harvard) focus on “latent inhibition,” a cognitive mechanism discovered as a result of experiments with animals in the late 1950s. Latent inhibition is the capacity of an animal to unconsciously screen out stimuli perceived as irrelevant to its needs.
Psychologists have generally linked a low level of latent inhibition to psychotic conditions like schizophrenia; the lack of filtering can even flood the mind with random inputs. But the eminent psychologist Hans Eysenck also speculated that low latent inhibition might be one of the cognitive deficits that creative and psychotic people share. Although too much material entering the “cognitive working area” might disorient psychotics, Carson wondered whether “highly creative people could use those many bits and pieces in the cognitive workspace and combine them in novel, original ways.”

This idea intrigues me because it seems to link to many of the things I have been thinking about for years. Thinking in terms of this concept, much of what I have been trying think through in Purposive Drift has been about how to overcome Latent Inhibition without being overwhelmed. The idea of bricololage is about the process of putting together “bits and pieces in the cognitive workspace and combine them in novel, original ways.” And, of course, the mystery of creativity itself and how some circumstances seem to promote it and others inhibit it, maybe explored using this concept.
What also interests me in this concept is that it could explain the sense of danger that is associated with creativity. Something that seems to be missing in much of the writing about creativity and business. While there are countless articles urging companies and the people who work in them to be more creative and innovative, few seem to confront the reality that being creative can get you into some dangerous, lonely places.
Since Grant McCracken alerted me to this concept I should conclude with his take on the idea. He speculates that:
“Our culture and our economy now appear to be predicated on the constant flow of ?difference? both from without and within. In the words of Thomas Stewart, ?intellectual capital? is the new wealth of organizations. More to the present point, it is the necessary wealth of organizations. Without a constant stream of new ideas and innovations the organization withers and dies. To put this more apocalyptically, it is as if we are as a culture and an economy, now hydroplaning. As long as we continue hydroplaning, we?re fine. It?s the moment of touchdown we do not want to think about.”
Or in other words he seems to be arguing that we may have managed to institutionalise low latent inhibition.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, some concepts set off an explosion of ideas. No doubt I shall be returning to this one in the future. Meanwhile, I hope it has given you something to think about too.

One thought on “Low Latent Inhibition”

  1. I really think this research has opened up a whole new way of thinking about creativity. I’m especially interested in how we can use this research to pursue heightened creativity. I like how the article mentions that corticosterone lowers latent inhibition. For example, white noise, caffeine, alcohol, cold water, and many forms of stress increase corticosterone, and would presumably lower LI. It seems like experimenting with combinations of these could provide one way to personally test out these ideas. Increased dopamine neurotransmission likewise lowers LI, as has been found in several studies which tested latent inhibition when d-ampetamine was given to humans. As expected, the dopaminergic effect of amphetamine significantly lowered LI. Alcohol and all drugs of abuse have dopaminergic effects, which might help explain the longstanding association between creative individuals and drug abuse. The question is, how can we increase dopamine in a more sustainable way? In my experience I have found two common natural supplements to be useful: NADH (which increases dopamine via the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase) as well as SAM-e (typically used as an antidepressant, but it has also been found to effectively re-sensitize the dopamine-rich nucleus accumbens, which may ultimately contribute to a dopaminergic effect). I discuss latent inhibition and creativity extensively at my website, http://creativesubstances.com.
    Most importantly perhaps is that this research provides a way to conceptualize the optimum creative mind-state: a detached, diffuse state of mind in which a multitude of associations are combined and recombined to generate novel solutions. When I think back to some creative breakthroughs I’ve had as a creative writer, what stands out are stretches often lasting hours of struggling to find a solution. My mind seems almost blank, as if everything is happening subsurface. The actual breakthrough usually comes either late at night in bed or shortly after waking up in the morning. Fresh solutions or directions abruptly come to mind, and from that first solution innumerable further directions and ideas spiral out with a euphoria-producing ease.

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