Political Correctness Boosts Creativity

Illustrated lightbulbs come out of a creative head.

Image: Shutterstock

Many people, especially on the Internet, see any attempt at “political correctness” as the worst kind of censorship. They maintain that, for example, “forcing” a video game developer not to treat female characters as merely sexual objects “stifles” the creativity of that developer, and somehow impinges on the rights of the players. They maintain that not being allowed to be intentionally offensive is somehow bad for creativity.

Well, researchers at Cornell University are publishing a study that shows what the rest of us already knew: “political correctness” is actually good for creativity. It turns out that, instead of stifling creativity, having to treat others like people boosts creativity, at least among mixed-sex groups.

The reason for that seems to be that when women aren’t constantly afraid of being called “sweetheart” or having to put up with sexist jokes in order to occupy the same spaces as their co-workers, they’re more willing to interact with those co-workers. Apparently it goes the other direction too, with both women and men feeling more comfortable in the workplace when they’re expected to adhere to the minimum of human decency.

All snark aside, that comfort level allows people to collaborate and work together, with less fear of their ideas being shot down, and less fear that their ideas will never even be heard. The argument could also be made that creativity is made stronger when given at least some confines, requiring people to think of new and interesting ways to do things. Look at Hollywood and the mainstream video game industry as examples: with unlimited budgets they turn out the same stories and characters over and over. Meanwhile, independent filmmakers and game developers have to find new ways to tell stories within the confines of limited resources.

Of course, this study addresses the shared spaces that people work within, not the kind of work they do. Regardless of resources, if everyone feels comfortable in their work environment, they’re going to perform better.

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