ScienceSocietySpiegeloog 403: Global

Thought and Travelling

By April 17, 2020 April 24th, 2020 No Comments

Many of us can’t imagine spending holidays without going abroad. The world is ‘going global’ and we are still finding out what the consequences are: health, economic, or psychological. Looking at the last one: does travelling change how we think?

Many of us can’t imagine spending holidays without going abroad. The world is ‘going global’ and we are still finding out what the consequences are: health, economic, or psychological. Looking at the last one: does travelling change how we think?

Image: Tom Gregg

‘Global tourism hits record heights’ (Blackall, 2019). What does that mean? People certainly like to explore different regions of the world. But does that exploration bring us something other than a bunch of souvenirs? Surely you’ve heard that people who travel become more open-minded. Intuitively it makes sense travelling to other parts of the world allows us to mingle with other cultures and maybe makes us realise that there are different-minded people out there – people from other cultures who may have somewhat different values from ours. This alone should account for open-mindedness, right? What about other impacts of travelling? Many Internet articles say that travelling makes us more creative, open-minded, humble, smarter, healthier, and even more interesting (Nomadrs, 2020; The ClaimCompass Blog, 2019). But can travelling really do all those things? Perhaps that the change travelling brings is not as significant as we would expect it to be. And maybe things are helped by confirmation bias, driven by our love for experience and travelling, that makes us see travelling in such a positive light. How to reconcile the relationship between travelling and creativity, open-mindedness and empathy? Science, the floor is yours.

When we travel, we get to know more about how other people live their lives. We can take inspiration from other’s morning rituals or how they cook their food. This is not the same as creativity though. Creativity is about finding out something that’s new to us. Therefore, I think that creativity could not stem just from superficial observations of other cultures. Research supports this view since travelling seems to boost our creativity only if we live in another country for some time. For instance, students who lived abroad for some time and were primed with their foreign living experiences were better at a creative association test of convergent thinking where people are presented with three words and asked to come up with an additional word that can logically associate the three words than students who were primed with their experience of shopping in a local supermarket (Maddux & Galinsky, 2009). In other words, we become more creative when we need to adapt to the specific culture of another country, not when we only go there on holiday or ‘know’ about the other culture. This makes sense: for example, why should I be more creative when all I do during holidays is sunbathe and go to parties with people from my own culture? Indeed, the interaction between cultures when we try to adapt to a new environment, for instance studying abroad for a year, makes us integrate with the other culture. As a consequence, we get to know how people from the other culture think, and become familiar with their values. 

“This suggests that it is the quality, not the quantity of experiences abroad that makes us more creative!”

Not only individuals, but also organizations benefit from travelling: they generate more ideas and implement them as products or services as they become more globally oriented. A study found that both breadth (number of foreign countries in which individuals had worked) and cultural distance (between the countries in which the person has been working) predicted organisational creativity later on. However, the most powerful predictor was the depth of work experience: as the number of years each director had worked abroad in their professional career increased, so did the creativity of the whole organization (Godart et al., 2015). This suggests that it is the quality, not the quantity of experiences abroad that makes us more creative!

Travelling is often praised not only for increasing creativity, but also for making us more open-minded and empathetic. For example, when I was deciding where to spend my previous holidays, I stumbled upon this website called Workaway. It often mentioned that travelling makes you more open-minded. However, research evidence is not that clear-cut. Studies have focused on the concept of intercultural effectiveness (successful intercultural communication and interaction, for instance an ability to live contentedly and work successfully in another culture), which is related to travelling, because one of the criteria against which intercultural effectiveness is measured is exploration, or curiosity for seeking new opportunities, ideas and experiences. And indeed, travelling is a disguised exploration. Such studies have found a positive relationship between intercultural effectiveness and social competences such as open-mindedness and empathy (e.g. Herfst et al., 2008). In other words, people who tend to view foreigners as equal and are able to stand up for them when various incidents occur (e.g. defending foreigners when they rightfully complain in one’s company) generally show high levels of open-mindedness and empathy. Since the concept of intercultural effectiveness resembles travelling in exploration, it may be the case that it is the meaningful, ‘deep’ exploration or interaction between us and other cultures that make us understand them better as a group and treat them as we treat our ingroup.

“we need to be motivated to change into more global-minded people”

However, correlation does not imply causation, so the question remains how are these variables related. Does intercultural effectiveness make us more open-minded and empathetic, or is it the other way around? Moreover, is there a third variable that makes them happen at the same time? Some researchers claim that dealing with different cultures and people as characterized by open-mindedness and empathy may be quite important to intercultural effectiveness (Hannigan, 1990). This shows us that it is also our attitude to different cultures we already have and pack in our suitcase that determine whether we will display intercultural effectiveness, which is among other things, exploration – or travelling – itself. 

So, we have seen that science promotes travelling for becoming more creative, open-minded and empathetic, at least in regards to the limited selection of items that we discussed here. However, we have also seen that it really matters the kind of interaction we experience during our stay abroad and our attitudes beforehand – our sense of open-mindedness or empathy. Therefore, the ‘romantic’ view of travelling is not as valid – we don’t simply transform into empathetic angels as we cross borders. Instead, we need to be motivated to change into more global-minded people and make the effort to immerse ourselves in other cultures to see the world from other perspectives. In that way, simply travelling is not changing us. Rather, travelling strengthens our predispositions into fully developed traits. Isn’t that beautiful? With more globalization taking place these days, we have the opportunity to travel a lot more and know other cultures. While travelling might not necessarily make us smarter or more interesting, with enough effort put into our interactions with locals and the right kind of attitudes, maybe we can make this world a more creative, open-minded, empathetic, and ultimately better place.

References

– Blackall, M. (2019, July 1). Global tourism hits record highs – but who goes where on holiday? Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/jul/01/global-tourism-hits-record-highs-but-who-goes-where-on-holiday
– Godart, F. C., Maddux, W. W., Shipilov, A. V., & Galinsky, A. D. (2015). Fashion with a Foreign Flair: Professional Experiences Abroad Facilitate the Creative Innovations of Organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 58(1), 195–220. 
– Hannigan, T. P. (1990). Traits, attitudes, and skills that are related to intercultural effectiveness and their implications for cross-cultural training: A review of the literature. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 14(1), 89–111. 
– Herfst, S. L., van Oudenhoven, J. P., & Timmerman, M. E. (2008). Intercultural Effectiveness Training in three Western immigrant countries: A cross-cultural evaluation of critical incidents. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 32(1), 67–80.
– Maddux, W. W., and Galinsky, A.D. (2009). Cultural borders and mental barriers: The relationship between living abroad and creativity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(5), 1047–1061.
– Nomadrs. (2020). Science says traveling makes you more creative, open-minded and humble. Retrieved from https://nomadrs.com/science-says-traveling-makes-you-more-creative-open-minded-and-humble/
– The ClaimCompass Blog. (2019, December 15). Why Wouldn’t You Travel More When There Are So Many Benefits of Traveling?! Retrieved from https://www.claimcompass.eu/blog/benefits-of-travelling/

‘Global tourism hits record heights’ (Blackall, 2019). What does that mean? People certainly like to explore different regions of the world. But does that exploration bring us something other than a bunch of souvenirs? Surely you’ve heard that people who travel become more open-minded. Intuitively it makes sense travelling to other parts of the world allows us to mingle with other cultures and maybe makes us realise that there are different-minded people out there – people from other cultures who may have somewhat different values from ours. This alone should account for open-mindedness, right? What about other impacts of travelling? Many Internet articles say that travelling makes us more creative, open-minded, humble, smarter, healthier, and even more interesting (Nomadrs, 2020; The ClaimCompass Blog, 2019). But can travelling really do all those things? Perhaps that the change travelling brings is not as significant as we would expect it to be. And maybe things are helped by confirmation bias, driven by our love for experience and travelling, that makes us see travelling in such a positive light. How to reconcile the relationship between travelling and creativity, open-mindedness and empathy? Science, the floor is yours.

When we travel, we get to know more about how other people live their lives. We can take inspiration from other’s morning rituals or how they cook their food. This is not the same as creativity though. Creativity is about finding out something that’s new to us. Therefore, I think that creativity could not stem just from superficial observations of other cultures. Research supports this view since travelling seems to boost our creativity only if we live in another country for some time. For instance, students who lived abroad for some time and were primed with their foreign living experiences were better at a creative association test of convergent thinking where people are presented with three words and asked to come up with an additional word that can logically associate the three words than students who were primed with their experience of shopping in a local supermarket (Maddux & Galinsky, 2009). In other words, we become more creative when we need to adapt to the specific culture of another country, not when we only go there on holiday or ‘know’ about the other culture. This makes sense: for example, why should I be more creative when all I do during holidays is sunbathe and go to parties with people from my own culture? Indeed, the interaction between cultures when we try to adapt to a new environment, for instance studying abroad for a year, makes us integrate with the other culture. As a consequence, we get to know how people from the other culture think, and become familiar with their values. 

“This suggests that it is the quality, not the quantity of experiences abroad that makes us more creative!”

Not only individuals, but also organizations benefit from travelling: they generate more ideas and implement them as products or services as they become more globally oriented. A study found that both breadth (number of foreign countries in which individuals had worked) and cultural distance (between the countries in which the person has been working) predicted organisational creativity later on. However, the most powerful predictor was the depth of work experience: as the number of years each director had worked abroad in their professional career increased, so did the creativity of the whole organization (Godart et al., 2015). This suggests that it is the quality, not the quantity of experiences abroad that makes us more creative!

Travelling is often praised not only for increasing creativity, but also for making us more open-minded and empathetic. For example, when I was deciding where to spend my previous holidays, I stumbled upon this website called Workaway. It often mentioned that travelling makes you more open-minded. However, research evidence is not that clear-cut. Studies have focused on the concept of intercultural effectiveness (successful intercultural communication and interaction, for instance an ability to live contentedly and work successfully in another culture), which is related to travelling, because one of the criteria against which intercultural effectiveness is measured is exploration, or curiosity for seeking new opportunities, ideas and experiences. And indeed, travelling is a disguised exploration. Such studies have found a positive relationship between intercultural effectiveness and social competences such as open-mindedness and empathy (e.g. Herfst et al., 2008). In other words, people who tend to view foreigners as equal and are able to stand up for them when various incidents occur (e.g. defending foreigners when they rightfully complain in one’s company) generally show high levels of open-mindedness and empathy. Since the concept of intercultural effectiveness resembles travelling in exploration, it may be the case that it is the meaningful, ‘deep’ exploration or interaction between us and other cultures that make us understand them better as a group and treat them as we treat our ingroup.

“we need to be motivated to change into more global-minded people”

However, correlation does not imply causation, so the question remains how are these variables related. Does intercultural effectiveness make us more open-minded and empathetic, or is it the other way around? Moreover, is there a third variable that makes them happen at the same time? Some researchers claim that dealing with different cultures and people as characterized by open-mindedness and empathy may be quite important to intercultural effectiveness (Hannigan, 1990). This shows us that it is also our attitude to different cultures we already have and pack in our suitcase that determine whether we will display intercultural effectiveness, which is among other things, exploration – or travelling – itself. 

So, we have seen that science promotes travelling for becoming more creative, open-minded and empathetic, at least in regards to the limited selection of items that we discussed here. However, we have also seen that it really matters the kind of interaction we experience during our stay abroad and our attitudes beforehand – our sense of open-mindedness or empathy. Therefore, the ‘romantic’ view of travelling is not as valid – we don’t simply transform into empathetic angels as we cross borders. Instead, we need to be motivated to change into more global-minded people and make the effort to immerse ourselves in other cultures to see the world from other perspectives. In that way, simply travelling is not changing us. Rather, travelling strengthens our predispositions into fully developed traits. Isn’t that beautiful? With more globalization taking place these days, we have the opportunity to travel a lot more and know other cultures. While travelling might not necessarily make us smarter or more interesting, with enough effort put into our interactions with locals and the right kind of attitudes, maybe we can make this world a more creative, open-minded, empathetic, and ultimately better place.

[/vc_row_inner]

References

– Blackall, M. (2019, July 1). Global tourism hits record highs – but who goes where on holiday? Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/jul/01/global-tourism-hits-record-highs-but-who-goes-where-on-holiday
– Godart, F. C., Maddux, W. W., Shipilov, A. V., & Galinsky, A. D. (2015). Fashion with a Foreign Flair: Professional Experiences Abroad Facilitate the Creative Innovations of Organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 58(1), 195–220. 
– Hannigan, T. P. (1990). Traits, attitudes, and skills that are related to intercultural effectiveness and their implications for cross-cultural training: A review of the literature. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 14(1), 89–111. 
– Herfst, S. L., van Oudenhoven, J. P., & Timmerman, M. E. (2008). Intercultural Effectiveness Training in three Western immigrant countries: A cross-cultural evaluation of critical incidents. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 32(1), 67–80. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2007.10.001
– Maddux, W. W., and Galinsky, A.D. (2009). Cultural borders and mental barriers: The relationship between living abroad and creativity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(5), 1047–1061. 
– Nomadrs. (2020). Science says traveling makes you more creative, open-minded and humble. Retrieved from https://nomadrs.com/science-says-traveling-makes-you-more-creative-open-minded-and-humble/
– The ClaimCompass Blog. (2019, December 15). Why Wouldn’t You Travel More When There Are So Many Benefits of Traveling?! Retrieved from https://www.claimcompass.eu/blog/benefits-of-travelling/
Milena Kaprálová

Author Milena Kaprálová

Milena (1999) is a first year psychology student, interested in how biology and psychology inform one another. She is an open science enthusiast and likes to write about subjective experience.

More posts by Milena Kaprálová