Friday, October 15, 2010

“One is the loneliest number, worse than two…”

Slate recently ran a fantastic article entitled, “Two Is the Magic Number,” which argues that creativity is maximized in pairs of people working together:

But a burgeoning field has shown that, from the very first days of life, relationships shape our experience, our character, even our biology. This research, which has flowered in the last ten years, took root in the 1970s. One reason, explains the psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik, was the advent of the simple video camera. It allowed researchers to easily capture and analyze the exchanges between babies and their caregivers.   In video of 4-month-olds with their mothers, for example, the two mimic each other's facial expressions and amplify them. So, a baby's grin elicits a mother's smile, which leads the baby to a full-on expression of joy—round mouth, big eyes. This in turn affects the mother, and so on in a continuous exchange that entwines the pair.

It's common sense that babies and mothers affect each other. But when you stop the tape and look at it frame by frame—as the researcher Beatrice Beebe and her team did in this experiment—you see how remarkably fast the exchange takes place, down to fractions of a second. It's not that a baby waits for stimulus from her mother and responds in kind. Actually, as the psychologist Susan Vaughan puts it, "both parties are processing an ongoing stream of stimuli and responding while the stimulation is still occurring." Another study of 2-day-old babies found similar results.

If relationships shape us so fundamentally, how—in the study of creativity—could they also be so obscure? Why are we preoccupied with the lone genius, with great men (and, more now than in the past, great women)? Evolutionary psychologists might point to how our ancestors focused on the alpha male of a pack or the headman of a tribe. But there are contemporary explanations.

For one thing, male-female acts have often kept one partner behind the curtain. The eminent psychoanalyst and social theorist Erik Erikson acknowledged that his wife of 66 years, Joan Erikson, worked with him so closely that it was hard to tell where her work left off and his began. But he drew the salary; his name went on the cover of Young Man Luther. He is among history's most famous social scientists; she doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry. 

Gender relations, though, are only one cause for hidden partners. The quiet, careful member of a pair may naturally be diminished in comparison with the brash, dramatic one. Braque and Picasso created Cubism together, but the mercurial Spaniard emerged as the star of the movement while history shunted the quiet Frenchman to the side.

Read more here.

MR

 

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