Home » Blogs » The Creative Mind » Leaky Attention and Being More Creative

Leaky Attention and Being More Creative

brain scan

“Poor sensory gating, the ability to filter unnecessary stimuli from the brain, correlated with a higher number of lifetime creative achievements.”

Being a highly sensitive person may include letting an unusually high level of information in to our nervous systems, which can lead to feeling overwhelmed by emotional and sensory input at times, but may also help explain why sensitive people are often artists and creators.

Marcel Proust wrote:

“From the sound of pattering raindrops I recaptured the scent of the lilacs at Combray; from the shifting of the sun’s rays on the balcony the pigeons in the Champs-Elysées…”

Those lines indicate his appreciation and creative use of sensation – one of the positive qualities of high sensitivity – technically called sensory processing sensitivity.

A number of us are both highly sensitive and introverted, and the traits can overlap. Perhaps one reason for introversion is to reduce “too much” sensory input.

Psychologist Elaine Aron even comments that Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” “is actually more about HSPs (highly sensitive people) than social introverts.”

From my post Are Introverts More Creative?

Elaine Aron, PhD is author of the book The Highly Sensitive Person and other books on the topic.

Read more of her comments and see videos in the post Elaine Aron on the trait of high sensitivity.

~ ~

Scott Barry KaufmanCognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman notes “sensory processing sensitivity is not the same thing as introversion.

“There are plenty of socially introverted folks who can deal with loud sounds and bright lights, even though they may get emotionally drained from too many superficial social interactions.

“Vice versa, there are plenty of socially extraverted individuals who get overstimulated by sensory input. A number of studies support that idea that sensory processing sensitivity is much more strongly linked to anxiety (neuroticism) and openness to experience than introversion.”

From my article Introverted, Shy or Highly Sensitive in the Arts.

~ ~ ~

This openness to experience can include “too much” stimulation.

In her Washington Post article Can’t focus? Maybe you’re a creative genius, Amy Ellis Nutt notes Proust wrote a letter to an upstairs neighbor politely complaining of the noise their son “martyrizes” him with, and Proust “later employed wax ear plugs and lined his bedroom with cork to counter the noisy distractions of Paris life.”

But she also refers to a Northwestern University study finding “physiological evidence of a connection between creative thinking and sensory distractions, or what they call ‘leaky attention.’ … the researchers found that poor sensory gating, the ability to filter unnecessary stimuli from the brain, correlated with a higher number of lifetime creative achievements.”

An article on the university site says this research “suggests why the inability to shut out competing sensory information while focusing on the creative project at hand might have been so acute for geniuses such as Proust, Franz Kafka, Charles Darwin, Anton Chekhov and many others.

“The Northwestern research provides the first physiological evidence that real-world creativity may be associated with a reduced ability to filter ‘irrelevant’ sensory information.

“The research suggests that some people are more affected by the daily bombardment of sensory information — or have ‘leakier’ sensory filters.”

From Creative Genius Driven by Distraction by Hilary Hurd Anyaso.


[The brain scan image is also used in my article Are Brains of Artists Different?]

Do you  have a need to filter out the ‘daily bombardment of sensory information’?


Leaky Attention and Being More Creative

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
~ ~
Some excerpts from The Creative Mind are included in his newsletter .
~ ~

Emotional Health Resources - Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional wellbeing.

One comment: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Eby, D. (2015). Leaky Attention and Being More Creative. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Apr 2015
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.