Attending to the Mind and Muse: A Historical, Anecdotal, and Experimental Exploration of Inspiration and Creativity

Gabai, Reina [Browse]
Senior thesis
74 pages


Sugarman, Susan [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Psychology [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
The most iconic symbols of inspiration are the Muses, the goddesses who bestowed inspiration upon the Greek poets who would invoke their aid. Nowadays, inspiration is not just for the select, special individuals with divine intervention, but is experienced by all individuals. However, even as society’s understandings of world, technology, education, and science have improved, the experience of inspiration has not lost its sense of elusiveness, spontaneity, and mystery. This paper examines the experience of inspiration, when people get inspired, and what qualities about their external environment and internal mindset help to cultivate the feeling of being inspired. We report on an experiment designed to examine one psychological element embedded in the poet’s invocation of the Muse: that the poet must turn his attention to the external source of his inspiration, and potentially away from the self, in order to be inspired. While the main hypotheses were not supported, our findings suggest that nondirected attention improves performance on a creative task and that limiting oneself to a particular focus, especially one that is unmotivating or negative, worsens creativity. We discuss potential future directions of study and the implications of this finding, both for real life and for understanding the invocation of the Muse.

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