Middle Ground Approach to Paradox: Within- and Between-Culture Examination of the Creative Benefits of Paradoxical Frames

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Abstract

Thriving in increasingly complex and ambiguous environments requires creativity and the capability to reconcile conflicting demands. Recent evidence with Western samples has suggested that paradoxical frames, or mental templates that encourage individuals to recognize and embrace contradictions, could produce creative benefits. We extended the timely, but understudied, topic by studying the nuances of for whom and why creative advantages of paradoxical frames emerge. We suggest that people endorsing a middle ground approach are less likely to scrutinize conflict and reconcile with integrative solutions, thus receiving less creative benefits of paradoxical frames. Five studies that examined individual and cultural differences in middle ground endorsement support our theory. Study 1 found that paradoxical frames increased creativity, but failed to replicate that experienced conflict mediated the relationship in a Taiwanese sample. In both within- and between-culture analysis, we showed that the creative advantages of thinking paradoxically and experiencing conflict emerged among individuals who endorse lower (vs. higher) levels of middle ground (Study 2) and among Israelis whose culture predominantly endorses middle ground strategy less, but not among Singaporeans whose culture predominantly endorses middle ground more (Study 3). Study 4 further demonstrated the causal role of middle ground in the paradox—conflict—creativity link. To answer “why,” Study 5 situationally induced integrative complex thinking that sets distinctions and forms syntheses among contradictory elements, and found that low endorsers of middle ground performed more creatively when they engaged integrative complex thinking to cope with paradoxes. This program of studies offers important insights on harnessing paradoxical experiences to catalyze creativity.

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