Originality and creativity are still hailed as being the best, even though there are countless examples of huge creative breakthroughs that "borrowed" directly from the creations of others.

New research from Indiana University found that people make greater creative strides when they copy others - and when they work in a crowded field, rather than alone. "We naturally take umbrage when others copy us," says Robert Goldstone, a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at IU Bloomington. "We don’t [want to] share our salsa recipe or our finger picking technique. But you may be cheating yourself out of the opportunity for finding even better solutions."

To put this hypothesis to the test, the IUB team created a video game called Creature League, modeled after popular games such as Virtual Pets or Fantasy Football.

How it works: You and your competitor(s) are given a team of four cute creature icons each (ie. a robot, goldfish, caterpillar, etc.) and a score. You are also given a common pool of creature icons which you can swap with any of the creatures on your team. The goal is to get the highest possible score by assembling the best team of creatures.

The catch: You have no idea which creature pairing gets the most points.

Another catch: You can see what your competitors are doing and copy then. Therefore, if another player realizes that a dino-fish-gorilla-robot combo earns a ton of points, you can build yourself the exact same team in the next round. Of course, this will prompt your competitor to try and beat you, so he'll tweak his creature team too. If he succeeds, it's only logical that you'll copy him again.

The result: Goldstone found that scores were higher when people had "more imitating choices than innovating choices." His team also found that you don't only perform better when you steal other people's work, you perform better when other people steal from you. "When people imitate, they usually tweak the solution," says Goldstone. "And sometimes those tweaks result in an innovation. When that happens, the person who was imitated can go back and imitate the their competitor’s solution."

Goldstone noted that his study raises plenty of ethical and practical concerns; from plagiarism to the large sums that companies spend on R&D, it's obvious why people want to protect their work. "Competing for the same market share and a fear of getting ripped off are real," he says. "But maybe there's too much of a focus on that." More players in the field not only broadens the market but can lead to increased efficiency all around.

Goldstone's next version of Creature League will test the costs and benefits of intellectual property regulations. In the new scenario, players will be able to patent their creature line-ups and charge competitors who want to use them.