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Research on Creativity



Research can be defined as an objective, systematic investigation for the purpose of testing theories, establishing facts, and advancing knowledge. Psychology is often subdivided into experimental psychology, which is research oriented, and clinical psychology, which is practice oriented. Thus psychological research on creativity is primarily, though not entirely, the domain of experimental psychology. Educators, business people, people in the entertainment industry, and others, also study creativity. Creativity is arguably our most uniquely human trait. It enables us to escape the present, reconstruct the past, and fantasize about the future, to visualize something that does not exist and change the world with it. Defining creativity presents difficulties; for example, not all creative works are useful, and not all are aesthetically pleasing. Both usefulness and aesthetic value capture, in some sense, what creativity is about. Nevertheless, psychologists have almost universally converged on the definition originally proposed by Guilford over sixty years ago. Guilford (1950) defined creativity in terms of two criteria: originality or novelty, and appropriateness or adaptiveness, i.e., relevance to the task at hand.
Full reference:
Gabora, L. (2013). Research on Creativity. In Elias G. Carayannis (Ed.)
Encyclopedia of
Creativity, Invention, Innovation
and Entrepreneurship
(pp. 1548-1558). New Delhi, India: Springer.
Research on Creativity
Liane Gabora
University of British Columbia, Canada
Creativity research; empirical aesthetics; empirical studies of the arts; empirical studies of
Main Text
Key Concepts and Definition of Terms
Defining Research
Research can be defined as an objective, systematic investigation for the purpose of testing
theories, establishing facts, and advancing knowledge. Psychology is often subdivided into
experimental psychology, which is research oriented, and clinical psychology, which is practice
oriented. Thus psychological research on creativity is primarily, though not entirely, the domain
of experimental psychology. Educators, business people, people in the entertainment industry,
and others, also study creativity.
Defining Creativity
Creativity is arguably our most uniquely human trait. It enables us to escape the present,
reconstruct the past, and fantasize about the future, to visualize something that does not exist and
change the world with it. Defining creativity presents difficulties; for example, not all creative
works are useful, and not all are aesthetically pleasing. Both usefulness and aesthetic value
capture, in some sense, what creativity is about. Nevertheless, psychologists have almost
universally converged on the definition originally proposed by Guilford over sixty years ago.
Guilford (1950) defined creativity in terms of two criteria: originality or novelty, and
appropriateness or adaptiveness, i.e., relevance to the task at hand. Surprise is sometimes added
as a third criterion (Boden 2004). Some add quality as a separate criterion, while others use the
term appropriateness in a way that encompasses quality. Creativity has also been defined as a
complex or syndrome, and some define it so broadly as to include novelty-generating processes
in the biological world or the universe at large. However, it is the ‘originality and
appropriateness’ definition that is encountered most often and that has become standard
(Sternberg 1988; Feldman, Csikszentmihalyi and Gardner 1994; Amabile 1996; Runco 2004).
While this definition provides a much-needed departure point for discussion about and
measurement of creativity, there is likely no one-size-fits-all definition of creativity. For
scientific or technological endeavors, appropriateness might be more important, whereas in the
arts, originality might be weighted more heavily. Thus, creativity must be assessed relative to the
constraints and affordances of the task.
The Four Ps of Creativity
It is often said that creativity involves four Ps: person, process, product, and place (Rhodes
Research focused on the creative person can take the form of studies that investigate what
personality traits are correlated with high creativity, or case studies of particular creative
individuals. It can also include historiometric methods, which involve obtaining qualitative data
on eminent creators (i.e., number of paintings produced throughout their career), transforming it
into quantitative data, and performing statistical analyses with the aim of finding general laws or
statistical relationships that transcend particulars of person, time, or place.
The second P of creativity concerns the process by which ideas come about. Process
oriented research can involve testing descriptive models of the stages of the creative process,
investigations into what kind of thought processes are contributing to the creative ideation in
these different stages, or studies of creative individuals at work. These studies may be
observational, involve questionnaires, or neuroscientific methods such as functional magnetic
resonance imaging (fMRI).
The third P of creativity, the product, can take the form of a physical object (e.g., a
painting), or behavioral act (e.g., a dance), or an idea, theory, or plan of action. Western
approaches to creativity have tended to focus more on the product than Eastern approaches.
The last of the four Ps of creativity, place, concerns the environmental conditions
conducive to creativity. Certain individual situations, such as education and training, role models
and mentors, and perhaps surprisingly, childhood trauma, are correlated to historical creativity.
Economic growth appears to have a stimulating effect on creativity, whereas war has an
inhibitory effect.
Historical versus Personal Creativity
Psychologists distinguish between different kinds and degrees of creativity, such as between
historical and personal creativity (Boden 2004). When the creative process results in a product
that is new to all of humanity and makes an impact on the course of civilization, it is referred to
as historical creativity (H-Creativity). Historical creativity is also sometimes referred to as
eminent creativity, because the creator tends to become famous. When the creative process results
in a product that is new to the creator, but someone else has come up with it before, or it is not
creative enough to impact human civilization, it is referred to as personal creativity (P-
Creativity). Although personal creativity does not change the world, it can be a source of pleasure
and amusement. Clearly there are shades of gray between these extremes.
A concept that is closely related to personal creativity is everyday creativity. Everyday
creativity manifests in daily life; it comes through in how one prepares a meal, decorates a room,
or interprets and shares experiences. Everyday creativity generally begins with an innovative,
often unconventional approach to life that involves capitalizing on hidden opportunities,
undertaking common tasks in uncommon ways, and finding solutions to challenges as they arise.
Historical and personal and creativity are also sometimes referred to as Big C and Little C
creativity, respectively. Some additionally make the case for Mini C creativity, which involves
making personally meaningful interpretations of objects and events, and which can form the basis
for more substantial creative acts (Beghetto and Kaufman 2007). Daily life involves thinking
things and doing things that, at least in some small way, have never been thought or done before,
and thus that everyone is somewhat creative (Runco 2004).
Creativity versus Discovery and Invention
Creativity is sometimes distinguished from two related concepts: discovery and invention from
two related concepts: discovery and invention. Discovery involves finding something already
present and sharing it, e.g., Columbus’ discovery of America. It is relatively impersonal because
if one person had not discovered it, someone else would have. Invention entails unearthing
something that was not present before, e.g., Alexander Bell’s invention of the telephone. Like
discovery, it is relatively impersonal. Creativity also involves sharing something that was not
present before. Some psychologists additionally require that for something to qualify as creative
it must be profoundly personal in the sense that one feels the presence of a unique individual in
the work, e.g., Leonardo Da Vinci’s art.
Theoretical Background
Early Conceptions
In early times the creative individual was viewed as an “empty vessel” that was filled with
inspiration by a divine being. In the first half of the 20th Century there was little research on
creativity because it was thought to be too complex and frivolous for scientific investigation. A
pioneering exception to this was Wallas’ (1926) classification of the creative process into a series
of stages. The first of Wallas’ stages is preparation, which involves obtaining the background
knowledge relevant to the problem, its history (if known), and any instructions or past attempts or
preconceptions regarding how to solve it. It also involves conscious, focused work on the
problem. The second stage is incubation—unconscious processing of the problem that continues
while one is engaged in other tasks. The preparation and incubation stages may be interleaved, or
incubation may be omitted entirely. Wallas proposed that after sufficient preparation and
incubation, the creative process is often marked by a sudden moment of illumination, or insight,
during which the creator glimpses a solution to the problem, which may have had to be worked
and reworked to make sense of it. Wallas’ final phase is referred to as verification. This involves
not just fine-tuning the work and making certain that it is correct, as the word implies, but putting
it in a form that can be understood and appreciated by others. Empirical investigation of Wallas’
theory yielded mixed results. Another shortcoming is that it is merely descriptive; it does not
explain how or why the stages occur.
The year 1950 marks a turning point for research in creativity, when it was the subject of
Guilford’s address to the American Psychological Association. Creativity came to be a subject of
interest to many disciplines, and to be approached from many directions.
Cognitive Approaches
Cognitive approaches to creativity focus on the mental processes by which creative outputs are
generated. These processes include concept combination, expansion of concepts, imagery,
metaphor, and divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is often assumed to involve the generation
of multiple, often unconventional, possibilities (Guilford 1968; for a review see Runco 2010).
Another view is that creative thinking is divergent not in the sense that it generates multiple
possibilities, but in the sense that it produces a raw idea that is vague or unfocused and requires
processing to become viable.
Some who take a cognitive approach viewed the mind, metaphorically, as a computer (or
computer program). They proposed that creativity involves a heuristic search, in which rules of
thumb guide the inspection of different states within a particular state space (a set of possible
solutions) until a satisfactory solution is found (Newell, Shaw and Simon 1957). In heuristic
search, the relevant variables of the problem or situation are defined up front; thus the state space
is generally fixed. Examples of heuristics include breaking the problem into sub-problems, and
working backward from the goal state to the initial state. It has since been proposed that creativity
involves heuristics that guide the search for a new state space itself, rather than just a new
possibility within a given state space (Boden 1990; Kaplan and Simon 1990). This involves
switching from one representation of the problem to another, sometimes referred to as
restructuring (Weisberg 1995).
Modifications to Wallas’ classic four-stage model of creativity (discussed above) have
been proposed. Some incorporate a phase that involves problem finding (noticing that something
is amiss), problem posing (expressing the problem), problem construction (developing a detailed
representation of the problem), or problem definition and redefinition (Amabile 1996; Guilford
1950). Problem finding may involve sensing gaps or disturbing missing elements (Torrance
1963). It may take the form of identification of a ‘seed incident’ around which the creative
project takes shape. Another modification of the four-stage model is the addition of a frustration
phase prior to incubation, in which straightforward attempts to solve the problem prove
unfruitful. Not all modifications add to the four stages; for example, Geneplore is a two-stage
model involving generation of crudely formed ideas referred to as pre-inventive structures
followed by exploration of them through elaboration and testing (Finke, Ward and Smith 1999).
Defocused attention, by diffusely activating a broad region of memory such that everything
seems to be related in some way to everything else, may be conducive to the divergent thought
that characterizes idea generation. Focused attention, by activating a narrow region of memory
and treating items in memory as distinct chunks that can be readily operated on, may be
conducive to the convergent thought that characterizes elaboration.
Psychometric Approaches
Those who take a psychometric approach develop tests of creativity as well as methods for
improving creativity.
The most widely known creativity test the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (Torrance
1996). It consists of multiple components or sub-tests. Examples include the Unusual Uses Test
in which participants are asked to think of as many uses for a common object (e.g., a brick) as
possible, or the Product Improvement Test, in which participants are asked to list as many ways
as they can to change a product to make it more useful or desirable, (e.g., to change a toy monkey
so children will have more fun playing with it). Since then other tests of creativity have been
proposed. Perhaps the most successful of these is Amabile’s (1996) Consensual Assessment
Technique, in which a panel of expert judges is asked to rate the creativity of products in their
area of expertise, e.g., story writing, poetry, or collage making.
The most well-known technique for improving creativity is brainstorming, which takes
place in groups, and involves encouraging them to suggest all the ideas they can, no matter how
seemingly ‘crazy’, and discouraging criticism of ideas. Such techniques are used by businesses
and organizations to develop successful business strategies, and in business schools to foster
Developmental and Personality Approaches
Developmental research focuses on creativity in children and throughout the lifespan. One
interesting set of findings to come from this research concerns the relationship between emotions
and creative play during childhood. The extent to which children access affect-laden (emotional)
thought is correlated with ratings of associative thinking, cognitive flexibility, and creativity, and
the extent to which children engage in fantasy and play (Russ 1993). Moreover, the degree of
fantasy and imagination at ages six to seven was related to the divergent thinking ability in high
Personality approaches to creativity focus on the personality traits associated with
creativity (Feist 1998). Creativity is correlated with independence of judgment, self-confidence,
aesthetic orientation, risk-taking, openness to experience, tolerance of ambiguity, impulsivity,
lack of conscientiousness, high energy, attraction to and ability to handle complexity, problem
sensitivity, flexibility, the ability to analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and reorganize information,
engage in divergent thinking. There is also evidence that creative individuals are more prone to
anxiety and emotional (affective) disorders. Creative individuals differ with respect to whether
they are internally versus externally oriented, person-oriented or task-oriented, and explorers
(who tend to come up with ideas) or developers (who excel at turning vague or incomplete ideas
into finished products).
Social and Cultural Approaches
Social and cultural approaches examine how family dynamics, group dynamics, and cultural
influences affect creativity, and how creativity compares across different cultures.
Maslow believed that creativity is fostered by environments that are supportive and free
of evaluation, which he claimed are conducive to self-actualization. However, it is not the case
that positive social environments necessarily lead to creativity. For example, highly creative
people tend to experience a lack of parental warmth, and are more likely to have experienced the
death of a parent at an early age, and raise fewer children, than average.
According to the systems approach, creativity occurs through an interaction between (1)
the individual, i.e., the creator, (2) a field which is set of relevant individuals in society, i.e., the
people involved in same creative endeavor as the individual, and (3) the domain, i.e., the set of
relevant ideas in the culture (Csikszentmihalyi 1997; Sawyer 2006). The creative process is thus
viewed as highly entwined with the process of persuasion.
Case Studies
In the early days of scientific psychology, experiments in strictly controlled laboratory conditions
were encouraged; case studies of individuals, and particularly introspective accounts, were not
taken seriously. Recently, researchers have acknowledged the artificiality of many laboratory
studies. There is stronger appreciation for taking an ecological approach. This involves studying
people in their everyday environments engaged in everyday tasks, and treating individual
differences not just noise, but as interesting in their own right. Individual differences are
particularly important in the study of creativity. Thus, although case studies and introspective
accounts are notoriously flawed and will never take the place of more controlled approaches, they
have a place in the scholarly effort to achieve a nuanced and multifaceted understanding of the
creative process.
Case studies of scientists have led to enhanced appreciation of the importance of problem
finding. Einstein, for example, famously claimed that real advance in science is marked by
regarding an old problem from a new angle, and the formulation of a problem is often more
challenging than its solution. Real-time studies of individual artists and designers have also
yielded interesting insights. For example, they have shown that creative ideation involves
elaborating on a ‘kernel idea’, which takes shape through ongoing interaction between artist and
artwork (Feinstein 2006; Locher 2010).
Clinical Approaches
As mentioned previously, there is evidence that creative individuals are more emotionally
unstable and prone to affective disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder and have a
higher incidence of schizophrenic tendencies than other segments of the population (Andreason
1987; Flaherty 2005; Jamieson 1993). There is also evidence that they are more prone to suicide
(Goodwin and Jamieson 1990) and to abuse drugs and alcohol (Ludwig 1995).
Clinical approaches to creativity are not focused exclusively on the negative. Freud’s
notion of the preconscious a state between conscious and unconscious reality where thoughts
are loose and vague but interpretable is still viewed by many as the source of creativity.
Clinical approaches to creativity also investigate how art therapy, music therapy, and dance
therapy can help patients open up and express themselves in ways that verbal communication
may not. Ironically, the notion of verification, as it has traditionally been construed since it was
first proposed by Wallas as the final stage of the creative process, involves making the idea
appealing to others takes into account the minds of those who will be exposed to the creative
work, while not taking into account the effect of the idea on the mind of the one who creates it.
Researchers are now beginning to take this into account.
Biological Approaches
Biological approaches investigate the extent to which there is a genetic basis to creativity, as well
as the underlying neural and physiological mechanisms underlying creativity. Twin studies and
other sorts of evidence suggest creative abilities are, at least to some extent, genetically inherited
(Eysenck 1995). One way to go about investigating the brain mechanisms underlying creativity
involves dissecting the brains of people who were particularly creative during their lifetimes. It
has been shown that Einstein’s brain had (1) a partially absent Sylvian fissure, which may have
facilitated communication between different parts of the brain, and (2) a high ratio of glial cells to
neurons in both area 9 of prefrontal cortex, which is associated with planning, attention, and
memory, and area 39 of the left inferior parietal cortex, which is associated with synthesizing
information from other brain regions.
A less dramatic but more common way to investigate the brain mechanisms underlying
creativity involves examining brain activity when people engage in creative activities using
electroencephalography (EEG) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Though
application of such methods is stymied by the fact that many brain areas are active during
creative thought, some interesting findings are emerging (Bristol, Vartanian and Kaufman, in
press). There is evidence that different kinds of creativity (deliberate versus spontaneous, and
emotional versus cognitive) involve different neural circuits (Dietrich 2004). Creative thought
appears to be facilitated by lower levels of noradrenaline and dopamine—catecholamines directly
linked to cognitive control, prefrontal functioning, and cortical arousal. EEG experiments show
that divergent thinking tasks produce decreased beta range synchrony and increased alpha range
synchrony over the frontal cortex, providing further evidence for a loosened cognitive control and
lower prefrontal cortical arousal during creative thought. There is also indirect neuroscientific
support for the above-mentioned contextual focus hypothesis, i.e., the notion that creativity
involves the ability to match where one’s mode of thought lies on the spectrum from associative
to analytic. Prior to finding the solution to an insight problem there is neural recruitment of the
prefrontal and executive memory networks, as well as the so-called ‘default network’ associated
with spontaneous mind wandering. This suggests that mind wandering has a utilitarian function,
and provides neurological support for the notion of expanded receptivity through neural
recruitment during divergent thought.
This is further supported by physiological research into creativity, which has revealed
evidence of an association between creativity and high variability in physiological measures of
arousal such as heart rate, spontaneous galvanic skin response, cortical activity, and EEG alpha
amplitude (Jausovec and Bakracevic 1995). For example, although creative people tend to have
higher resting arousal levels, when engaged in creative problem solving they tend to have lower
than average arousal levels These findings in conjunction with the cognitive findings discussed
previously suggest that during creative activities, creative individuals are particularly prone enter
a state that is quite different from their normal resting state, a state that has both a physiological
aspect (low arousal level) and a cognitive aspect (associative mode of thought).
Biological approaches to creativity also address what is going on at the level of neurons.
The vagueness of a ‘half-baked’ idea, and the sense that it holds potential, as well as its capacity
to actualize in different ways depending on how one thinks it through, may be side effects of
interference. Interference refers to the situation wherein a recent memory interferes with the
capacity to recall an older memory because they are encoded in overlapping distributions of
neurons in the brain. It is generally thought of as detrimental, but it may be beneficial with
respect to creativity. When two or more items encoded in overlapping distributions of neural cell
assemblies interfere with each other and get evoked simultaneously, a new idea may be the result.
The phenomenon of interference leading to creative ideation has been referred to as creative
interference. The vagueness of the new idea may reflect that it is uncertain how, in the context of
each other, the interfering components come together as a realizable whole. The ability to work
with an idea in this state is related to the personality trait of tolerance of ambiguity.
Evolutionary Approaches
Comparative and evolutionary approaches address the question of how humans evolved their
superlative creative abilities, how these abilities compare with those of other species, and in what
sense ideas can be said to evolve.
The earliest preserved signs of human creativity include primitive stone tools
approximately two million years ago (Mithen 1998). Since this corresponds with an increase in
brain size, it has been suggested that this enabled memories to be encoded in more detail, such
that there were more ways in which one experience could evoke a reminding of another. This
provided more ways of chaining thoughts and experiences into an integrated understanding of the
world, which both enabled and constrained the generation of creative ideas. Computational
modeling has provided support for this hypothesis (Gabora and Saberi 2011).
The Middle Upper Paleolithic marks the beginnings of art, science, and religion, and has
been referred to as the “big bang of creativity” (Mithen 1998). It has been suggested that this is
due to onset of the capacity to spontaneously shift between divergent and convergent modes of
thought. Once it was possible to shrink or expand the field of attention and thereby tailor one’s
mode of thought to the demands of the current situation, the fruits of one mode of thought could
be used as ingredients for the other, resulting in a richer understanding of the world and enhanced
potential to creatively change it. Tasks requiring either mode of thought, or both at different
stages of the creative process, could be carried out more effectively.
Another evolutionary approach uses societies of artificial agents that invent ideas and
imitate neighbors’ ideas to understand how ideas evolve over time. This approach has provided
evidence that the evolution of ideas gives rise to many of the phenomena observed in biological
evolution, such as (1) an increase in complexity and fitness (usefulness) over time, and (2) an
initial increase in diversity as the space of possibilities is explored followed by a decrease
associated with convergence on the fittest possibilities. If even a small fraction of agents are
creative, new ideas spread by imitation in waves throughout the society, reaching other creators
who puts another spin on them, and over time they evolve. The more creative the creative agents
are, the fewer of them there must be in order to maximize the evolution of fitter ideas, suggesting
that more creativity is not always better. In collaboration with archaeologists, creativity
researchers also trace the process by which one creative idea or technological invention paved the
way for another (Dasguptas 1996). They are using evolutionary theories and computational
models to aid the process of organizing human-created artifacts into cultural lineages.
Computational Approaches
We saw that computational modeling is particularly useful to those who investigating hypotheses
concerning the mechanisms by which humans became creative. Because the onset of such
mechanisms left no detectable trace, one begins by establishing which hypotheses are at least
computationally feasible. However, researchers studying the evolution of creativity are not the
only ones to take a computational approach; indeed efforts to develop computational models of
creativity date back to the 1950s and ‘60s. Herbert Simon developed a computer program called
BACON that came up with scientific laws. The nineties and early 2000s witnessed a plethora of
computer programs that generate music, art, stories, screensavers, and so forth. Computational
models have been used to model incubation and insight (Helie and Sun 2010), concept
combination (Thagard and Stewart 2011), and the shifting between two distinct modes of thought
in the creative process (Martindale 1995).
Open-Ended Issues
The Relative Contributions of Expertise, Chance, and Intuition
While most psychologists believe that creativity involves a combination of expertise, chance, and
intuition, they differ with respect to the degree of emphasis they place on these factors.
Expertise theorists point to evidence that it takes approximately a decade to master a
creative domain. Experts are better than beginners at detecting and remembering domain-relevant
patterns, and are more adept at generating effective problem representations and, when necessary,
revising initial hypotheses. Expertise theorists hypothesize that creativity involves everyday
thought processes such as remembering, planning, reasoning, and restructuring. They claim that
no special or unconscious thought processes are required for creativity, just familiarity with and
skill in a particular domain (Weisberg 2006).
Critics of this view note that entrenchment in established perspectives and approaches
may make experts more prone than beginners to psychological phenomena that reinforce familiar
perspectives and approaches such as set, functional fixedness, and confirmation bias). Those who
emphasize the role of chance include advocates of the Darwinian theory of creativity, according
to which the creative process, like natural selection, entails blind generation of possibilities
followed by selective retention of the most promising of them (Simonton 1999).
Some view creativity as not so much a matter of generating and selecting amongst
predefined alternatives but of intuiting an idea and then, by considering the idea from different
perspectives or trying it out different ways, taking it from an ill-defined state of potentiality to a
well-defined state of actualization (Gabora 2010). Those who study the role of intuition and the
actualization of potentiality emphasize the association-based structure of memory, and note that
creative individuals tend to have flat associative hierarchies, meaning they have better access to
remote associates, items that are related to the subject of interest in indirect or unusual ways
(Mednick 1962).
The Relative Importance of Process versus Product
While the tradition in the West is to focus almost exclusively on creativity as the process by
which a new and useful or entertaining product is generated, Eastern conceptions focus more on
creativity as a process that can bring about therapeutic change, i.e., that expresses, transforms,
solidifies, or unifies the creator’s understanding of and/or relationship to the world. In the
extreme, the external creative work can be viewed as a mere byproduct of the internal
transformation brought about through engagement in a creative task. In this view the primary
value of the creative process is that it enables the creator to express, transform, solidify, or unify
the creator’s understanding of and/or relationship to the world, while the external product
provides a means of tracking or monitoring this internal transformation. This view figures
prominently in creative therapies such as art therapy, music therapy, and drama therapy.
Is Creativity Domain Specific or Domain General?
Psychologists who emphasize the role of expertise tend to view creativity as highly domain-
specific; expertise in one domain is not expected to enhance creativity in another domain.
Support for domain-specificity comes from findings that expertise or eminence with respect to
one creative endeavor is only rarely associated with expertise or eminence with respect to another
(Baer 2010). For example, creative scientists rarely become famous artists or dancers.
Psychologists who emphasize intuition and associative processes tend to view creativity as
more domain-general, because associative thinking can produce metaphors that connect different
domains, and we gain understanding and control over experiences by translating and re-
expressing them through the constraints of different domains. This view is supported by studies
involving self-report scales, creativity checklists, and other sorts of psychometric or personality
data tend to support the view that creativity is domain-general (Plucker 1998). It is also supported
by experiments showing that if you recognize someone’s creative style in one domain, e.g.,
creative writing, there is an above-chance probability of recognizing works by that individual in
another domain, e.g., art (Gabora, O’Connor and Ranjan, in press).
Most researchers probably believe that the truth lies somewhere between the extremes. A
focus on product as opposed to process, and on talent, which is treated as one-dimensional, as
opposed to style, which is multidimensional, may have resulted in exaggeration of the extent to
which creativity is domain-specific. Creativity in one domain may help but not guarantee
creativity in another; it is neither strongly domain-specific nor domain-general. Although social
recognition of achievement in multiple domains may be rare, individuals use multiple creative
domains to meaningfully develop, explore, express, and understand themselves and their world.
Characteristic stylistic elements of these explorations may be transported from one domain to
another since all of an individual’s creative outputs are expressions of an individual’s particular
uniquely structured internal model of the world.
Is there are Dark Side to Creativity?
Although creativity is clearly stimulating and indispensable to cultural and technological
advancement, many believe it has a dark side (Cropley, Cropley, Kaufman and Runco 2010). In
addition to the evidence that eminent creativity is correlated with proneness to affective
disorders, suicide, and substance abuse, discussed above, excessive creativity may result in
reinventing the wheel, and absorption in ones’ own creative ideas may interfere with assimilation
or diffusion of proven effective ideas. Moreover, it is not necessary for everyone to be creative.
We can all benefit from the creativity of a few by imitating, admiring, or making use of their
creative outputs. Computer modeling suggests that society self-organizes to achieve a balance
between relatively creative and uncreative individuals (Leijnen and Gabora 2009). The social
discrimination that creative individuals often endure until they have proven themselves may aid
in achieving this equilibrium.
The Relationship between Creativity and Intelligence
Early research suggested that creativity and intelligence are correlated up until an IQ of
approximately 140, after which point they diverge; thus an individual can be very smart but not
terribly creative, or highly creative but not terribly smart. Recent research suggests that the
relationship between the two is more complex. Clearly it depends on how the constructs of
creativity and intelligence are being measured.
Implications for Theory, Policy, and Practice
Research in creativity has implications for theory, policy, and practice in a number of arenas. A
first area of application is clinical. Creative activities such as art making, music making, dance,
and drama are increasingly seen to have therapeutic effects that can be effective in both clinical
and non-clinical settings. The transformation that occurs on canvas or on the written page is
thought to be mirrored by a potentially therapeutic sense of personal transformation and self-
discovery that occurs within. Immersion in the creative task has been referred to as a state of flow
that may share characteristics with deeply spiritual or religious experiences (Csikszentmihalyi
A second, related area of application is childrearing and education. For example, creative
play in childhood facilitates access to affect-laden (emotional) thoughts, which may enhance
cognitive flexibility and divergent thinking abilities. Amabile’s (1996) work on intrinsic
motivation showed that rewards for creative work may actually inhibit creativity because
focusing on an external reward leads people to neglect the internally rewarding nature of creative
A third area of application is in business settings. For example, psychological work on
brainstorming sessions, in which people get together as a group and put forward ideas in an open
and accepting environment, has shown that it may be more effective when group work is
followed immediately by individual work, or when individuals communicate by writing so as to
avoid the problem of everyone talking at once.
Conclusion and Future Directions
It is our creativity that perhaps most distinguishes humans from other species and that has
completely transformed the planet we live on. Research in creativity is an exciting area that
brings together many different fields: neuroscience, education, and business, as well as
computational and mathematical modeling. Past and current areas of controversy concern the
relative contributions of expertise, chance, and intuition, whether the emphasis should be on
process versus product, whether creativity is domain-specific versus domain-general, and the
extent to which there is a dark side to creativity. Promising areas for further research in creativity
include computational modeling, and work on the neurobiological basis of creativity, as well as
environmental influences on creativity.
Psychology of creativity
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Systems vary based on a variety of different dimensions including the level of complexity. Some systems are simple, some systems are complicated, some systems are complex, and there are even systems that can become chaotic. As the level of system complexity increases, the amount of creativity effort applied also increases. At the complexity level, the boundaries are not always clearly defined, and there could be multiple integrated constituents that are dynamic autonomous agents sharing one common objective, together comprising a system of systems. Not only does the level of creativity need to change when dealing with system of systems, the method of managing that creativity effort needs to change as well. In dealing with creativity at the system of systems level, optimisation is not always possible, and ‘satisficing’ may be necessary.
Explaining Creativity is an accessible introduction to the latest scientific research on creativity. In the last 50 yearss, psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists have increasingly studied creativity, and we now know more about creativity that at any point in history. Explaining Creativity considers not only arts like painting and writing, but also science, stage performance, and business innovation. Until about a decade ago, creativity researchers tended to focus on highly valued activities like fine art painting and Nobel prize winning science. Sawyer brings this research up to date by including movies, music videos, cartoons, videogames, hypertext fiction, and computer technology. For example, this is the first book on creativity to include studies of performance and improvisation. Sawyer draws on the latest research findings to show the importance of collaboration and context in all of these creative activities. Today's science of creativity is interdisciplinary; in addition to psychological studies of creativity, Explaining Creativity includes research by anthropologists on creativity in non-Western cultures, and research by sociologists about the situations, contexts, and networks of creative activity. Explaining Creativity brings these approaches together within the sociocultural approach to creativity pioneered by Howard Becker, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Howard Gardner. The sociocultural approach moves beyond the individual to consider the social and cultural contexts of creativity, emphasizing the role of collaboration and context in the creative process.
Theory and research in both personality psychology and creativity share an essential commonality: emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual. Both disciplines also share an emphasis on temporal consistency and have a 50-year history, and yet no quantitative review of the literature on the creative personality has been conducted. The 3 major goals of this article are to present the results of the first meta-analytic review of the literature on personality and creative achievement, to present a conceptual integration of underlying potential psychological mechanisms that personality and creativity have in common, and to show how the topic of creativity has been important to personality psychologists and can be to social psychologists. A common system of personality description was obtained by classifying trait terms or scales onto one of the Five-Factor Model (or Big Five) dimensions: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Effect size was measured using Cohen's d (Cohen, 1988). Comparisons on personality traits were made on 3 sets of samples: scientists versus nonscientists, more creative versus less creative scientists, and artists versus nonartists. In general, creative people are more open to new experiences, less conventional and less conscientious, more self-confident, self-accepting, driven, ambitious, dominant, hostile, and impulsive. Out of these, the largest effect sizes were on openness, conscientiousness, self-acceptance, hostility, and impulsivity. Further, there appears to be temporal stability of these distinguishing personality dimensions of creative people. Dispositions important to creative behavior are parsed into social, cognitive, motivational, and affective dimensions. Creativity, like most complex behaviors requires an intra- as well as interdisciplinary view and thereby mitigates the historically disciplinocentric attitudes of personality and social psychologists.