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This article investigates how neuroscience in general, and neuroscience of creativity in particular, can be used in teaching "applied creativity" and the usefulness of this approach to creativity training. The article is based on empirical data and our experiences from the Applied NeuroCreativity (ANC) program, taught at business schools in Denmark and Canada. In line with previous studies of successful creativity training programs the ANC participants are first introduced to cognitive concepts of creativity, before applying these concepts to a relevant real world creative problem. The novelty in the ANC program is that the conceptualization of creativity is built on neuroscience, and a crucial aspect of the course is giving the students a thorough understanding of the neuroscience of creativity. Previous studies have reported that the conceptualization of creativity used in such training is of major importance for the success of the training, and we believe that the neuroscience of creativity offers a novel conceptualization for creativity training. Here we present pre/post-training tests showing that ANC students gained more fluency in divergent thinking (a traditional measure of trait creativity) than those in highly similar courses without the neuroscience component, suggesting that principles from neuroscience can contribute effectively to creativity training and produce measurable results on creativity tests. The evidence presented indicates that the inclusion of neuroscience principles in a creativity course can in 8 weeks increase divergent thinking skills with an individual relative average of 28.5%.
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HUMAN NEUROSCIENCE
HYPOTHESIS ANDTHEORY ARTICLE
published: 16 October 2013
doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00656
Applying the neuroscience of creati vity to creativity training
Balder Onarheim
1
*andMorten Friis-Olivarius
2,3
1
Department of Management Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark
2
Decision Neuroscience Research Group, Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen, Denmark
3
Danish Research Center for Magnetic Resonance, Centre for Functional and Diagnostic Imaging and Research,
Copenhagen University Hospital Hvidovre, Hvidovre, Denmark
Edited by:
Zbigniew R. Struzik, The University of
Tokyo, Japan
Reviewed by:
Bernard A. Nijstad, University of
Groningen, Netherlands
John J. Clement, University of
Massachusetts, Amherst, USA
*Correspondence:
Dr. Balder Onarheim, Department of
Management Engineering, Technical
University of Denmark,
Produktionstorvet 426, 2800 Kgs.
Lyngby, Copenhagen, Denmark
e-mail: balder@onarheim.com
This article investigates how neuroscience in general, and neuroscience of creativity
in particular, can be used in teaching ”applied creativity” and the usefulness of this
approach to creativity training. The article is based on empirical data and our experiences
from the Applied NeuroCreativity (ANC) program, taught at business schools in Denmark
and Canada. In line with previous studies of successful creativity training programs
the ANC participants are first introduced to cognitive concepts of creativity, before
applying these concepts to a relevant real world creative problem. The novelty in the
ANC program is that the conceptualization of creativity is built on neuroscience, and
a crucial aspect of the course is giving the students a thorough understanding of the
neuroscience of creativity. Previous studies have reported that the conceptualization of
creativit y used in such training is of major importance for the success of the training,
and we believe that the neuroscience of creativity offers a novel conceptualization for
creativity training. Here we present pre/post-training tests showing that ANC students
gained more fluency in divergent thinking (a traditional measure of trait creativity) than
those in highly similar courses without the neuroscience component, suggesting that
principles from neuroscience can contribute effectively to creativity training and produce
measurable results on creativity tests. The evidence presented indicates that the i nclusion
of neuroscience principles i n a creativity course can in 8 weeks increase divergent thinking
skills with an individual relative average of 28.5%.
Keywords: creativity, neuroscience, psychology, neuroscience of creativity, neurocreativity, teaching, application,
training
INTRODUCTION
We have discovered a new approach to train creativity: through
the neuroscience of creativity. While the neuroscience of cre-
ativity cannot yet claim to be an operational research domain,
we have in recent years been experimenting with applying the
current advances and insights from neuroscience to increase
the creativity of master level business students. In this article
we will argue for the usefulness of neuroscience for creativity
training, and support this claim with empirical data collected
from the creativity training programme Applied NeuroCreativity
(ANC).
Creativity is one of the most unique of human skills. It is
thus important to develop more effective ways to train cre-
ativity, in order to create excellence and differentiation in any
domain. Naturally, research on various approaches to enhance
creativity is widespread, and well developed both in terms of
creating the right conditions for creativity in education (see Selvi,
2007 for review) and for creativity training programs and their
effectiveness (see Scott et al., 2004 for a quantitative review).
In an impressi ve analysis of 70 creativity training studies, Scott
et al. (2004) conclude that a fundamental understanding of the
underlying concepts of creativity, combined with real life applica-
tion, was the most effective approach to train creativit y. Further-
more, they argue that the success of creativity training depends
on a sound understanding of the critical components of creative
thought.
We see the neuroscience of creativity as offering exactly that—a
uniquely clear and sound understanding, through its tangible and
rational conceptualizations of the cognitive processes involved in
creativ e thinking. We have therefore constructed ANC, based on
insights from existing successful creati vity training programs, but
with the inclusion of neuroscience as the underlying conceptu-
alization. If the conceptualization used in creativity training is
crucial for the success of the training, as concluded by Scottetal.
(2004), and if neuroscience provides a clearer conceptualization,
this approach should be a promising future direction for creativity
training.
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
DEFINITION OF CREATIVITY
It is impossible to write about, or teach, creativity without
providing a sound theoretical definition of the concept
of creativity. We will not dig ourselves and the reader
down in the var ious understandings of creativity and
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Onarheim and Friis-Olivarius Applying the neuroscience of creativity to creativity training
their philosophical underpinnings, as this is continuously
done more in-depth elsewhere (e.g., Glück et al., 2002;
Klausen, 2010). Most researchers agree on what is
considered the Standard Definition of Creati vity (Runco
and Jaeger, 2012): Creativity requires both originality and
usefulness, as originally proposed by Stein (1953). In this
paper, we rest our work on a more neurologically sound
extension of the standard definition ... the forming of
associative elements into new combinations which either
meet specified r equirements or are in some way useful. The
more mutually remote the elements of the new combination,
themorecreativetheprocessorsolution”(Mednick, 1962,
p. 221).
CREATIVITY TRAINING
The various studies related to enhancing creativity describe
a range of ways to encourage or enhance creativity, and the
two main approaches can be said to be through optimizing
thecreativeenvironment(e.g.,Moore, 1990; Westby and
Dawson, 1995; Anderson and West, 1998; Ekvall and Ryhammer,
1999; Fatt, 2000) or creativity training (e.g., Feldhusen et al.,
1970; Noller and Parnes, 1972; Nickerson, 1999). Educational
researchers have been engaged in the topic of teaching creativity
for decades (see Gregerson et al., 2013), but while this research
is well developed in terms of creating the right conditions for
creativity in education there is little focus on how to explain
cognitive principles to enhance creative ability. Although the
research regarding teaching creativity is impor tant for facilitating
creativity, we will in this p ap er focus on creativity training
and the impor tance of the conceptualizations of creativity
used.
For decades, researchers have been developing and testing
numerous approaches to creativity training, and there exists a
broad span in scope, teaching methods, purpose, length, and con-
ceptualization of creativity. This has led to an extensive number of
formats, and reviews of some of these can be found in Bull et al.
(1995)andSmith (1998). In their qualitative review Scott et al.
(2004) offer an in-depth overview of existing approaches, the
various types of programs and their measurable successfulness.
The main conclusion is that creativity training works, however
course design has an important influence on the effectiveness
thereof. The four critical aspects that seem to be particularly
useful in successful creativity training are summarized as:
First, training should be based on a sound, valid, conception of
the cognitive activities underly ing creative efforts. Second, this
training should be lengthy and relatively challenging with various
discrete cognitive skills, and associated heuristics, being described,
in turn, with respect to their effects on creative effor ts. Third,
articulation of these principles should be followed by illustrations
of their application using material based on “real-world” cases or
other contextual approaches (e.g., cooperative learning). Fourth,
and finally, presentation of this material should be followed by a
series of exercises, exercises appropriate to the domain at hand,
intended to provide people with practice in applying relevant
strategies and heuristics in a more complex, and more realistic
context. (Scott et al., 2004, p. 383).
This approach is very similar to two of the most widely
applied training programs: Purdue Creative Thinking program
(Feldhusen et al., 1970) and the Creative Problem-Solving
program (Noller and Parnes, 1972). Both these programs are
based on a combination of first describing key cognitive aspects
of creativity, before applying them in practice. In addition to the
design of the training prog rams, the model of creative processes
utilized is an important element in creativity training. Since
Wallas’ (1928) well-known five-stage model (preparation, incu-
bation, intimation, illumination and verification), a broad range
of descriptive creative process models has been developed (e.g.,
Osborn, 1953; Sternberg, 1988; for review see Mumford et al.,
1991). While the most common feature of creativity training is the
widely acknowledged component of creative thought, divergent
thinking (Fasko, 2001), the other components of creative thought
and related processes emphasized in the existing courses vary.
Another, and perhaps more controversial, question for creativ-
ity training is the matter of domain specificity (for a summary, see
Selvi, 2007 ). Can creativity training within one domain increase
creative performance in other domains, or will the increase in
creative skills only be related to the domain where it was taught?
In a study of poetry creativity training Baer (1996) demonstrates
that while the training worked for writing poems it did not
improve the creativity in short story writing, and concludes that
creativity training should be based on general domain inde-
pendent concepts that are demonstrated in a domain relevant
context.
While Bull et al. (1995) identified “cognitive approaches”
as one of four general approaches to creativity training, Scott
et al. (2004) distinguish between approaches based on “cognitive
processes and on “associational and affective mechanisms”. We
argue that with the advancement in neuroscience these two can
now be connected, by explaining the cognitive processes using
the associational and affective mechanisms to make the cogni-
tive concepts more accessible and tangible. To the best of our
knowledge there exist no published studies of such an approach
to creativity training. While many theories of creative thought
are intangible and hardly related to practical implications, we
see the neuroscience of creativity as a new framework that offers
a uniquely clear perspective on creativity and creative tools—
and at the same time a direct real world application for creative
processes.
TEACHING THE NEUROSCIENCE OF CREATIVITY
Creativity is a complex and multifaceted concept not easily
defined nor understood. Understanding the neurobiological basis
of creative brain processes requires not just an understanding
of the concept of creativity, but also a thorough neurobiological
background. However, although this represents a dilemma for
teaching creativity with neuroscience, we have explored an
approach we believe is capable of giving the layman student a
simplistic, yet correct, understanding of the cognitive aspects
of creativity through neuroscience. However, this has proven
a delicate balance between giving too much and too little
information. The way we have resolved this issue is by first
giving a full theoretical background of the current state of what
is known about creativity from neuroscience (8 h of lectures),
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Onarheim and Friis-Olivarius Applying the neuroscience of creativity to creativity training
starting from the single neuron level (e.g., lateral inhibition,
the role of activating and inhibiting neurotransmitters, how
these are regulated in different mental states and differences
in creative individuals) to recent advances from neuroimaging
studies (for recent reviews see Arden et al., 2010; Dietrich
and Kanso, 2010). This is all explained in laymans terms,
and it is consistently pointed out what is important for
comprehension and what is important for application. Even
though this is still much too complex to fully grasp, it provides
the student with a solid framework to ease the understanding
and implementation of the brain processes introduced in the
course.
All the theory is subsequently boiled down to a simplified
and easily comprehensible model that we have labelled Neuro-
Creativity, consisting of five key concepts based on basic brain
processes (priming, close and remote associations, inhibition,
fixation and the release of inhibition—referred to as incuba-
tion) we see as being most important, in addition to well doc-
umented neurological processes needed to understand the neu-
ral processes of creative behavior. The main idea behind this
approach is based on Mednick’s (1962) theory that creative pro-
cesses can be understood as the ability to rearrange knowledge
that already exists in the mind, and thus the greater the num-
ber of associations (especially remote associations) an individual
has to the requisite elements of a given problem, the greater
the probability of reaching a creative solution. Our theoreti-
cal framework is therefore a merge between associative theories
of creativity and basic neuroscientific knowledge of how the
brains associative networks function and their natural limita-
tions (e.g., how the neurological principles of lateral inhibition
can be used to understand cognitive fixation). A more detailed
description and explanation of the course is beyond the scope
of this article, and will therefore be presented in a later publica-
tion.
Greatly simplified, the practical implementation is grounded
in understanding how the br ain makes associations, and how
differences at the level of information processing (both internally
generated and externally perceived) can affect creative ability. For
example, by understanding the basic mechanisms of how asso-
ciations are formed, encoded, retrieved from memory etcetera,
the direction, the amount and remoteness of associations can
be manipulated. Other researchers have already observed that
the amount or remoteness of associations can be manipulated
during problem solving (e.g., Hofstadter, 1995; Clement, 2008).
Ourhypothesisisthereforethat:
H1: A tangible understanding of the neurological underpinnings
of creative thought, will produce measurable changes in trait
creativity.
This hypothesis is well in line with previous studies demon-
strating that explaining the nature of creativity is an effective part
of creativity training (e.g., Speedie et al., 1971; Clapham, 1997)
and forms the basis for this study. With the rapid development of
the neuroscience of creativity, we see it as a natural next step to
start using neurological conceptualizations in creativity training.
THE APPLIED NEUROCREATIVITY COURSE
The ANC is offered twice a year at Copenhagen Business School
(CBS—Masters level, Denmark) and annually at Sauder Business
School (UBC—MBA level, Canada). From 2013 it will further-
more be offered at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU—
Masters level, Denmark). Each course runs for 8 weeks, with a
weekly session of approximately 4 h of teaching and supervision.
Furthermore, 2 to 6 h of independent project and theory work in
groups between each session is expected. A total of 156 students
have attended the course so far with an average of 39 per course
(range 21–58). The entry requirement is 4 years of university
studies, and the average age of the participants is 26 (range 22–
44). The final hand-in is a written report reflecting on the creative
process in relation to theory, and the participants are assessed
based on an oral defence of this report.
The overall goal of the ANC course is simple: to improve trait
creativity of the participants. The teaching philosophy is based
on the metaphor of expertise as learning how to drive a car.
To become an expert, one first has to understand and learn the
mechanicsofthecarandthesystemoftrafc.Onedoesnot
have to be a mechanic, or a traffic analysis expert, but one has
to understand the basic functions and the relationships between
the two to effectively drive a car. When the basic principles are
learnt, the learner will have to learn to apply the theoretical
knowledge in practice, under close supervision. After a certain
amount of practice, the learner is able to apply the knowledge
withoutsupervision,andfromthatpointitisuptotheparticipant
to distil the skills into expertise.
The training focuses on four key aspects:
Understand creativity through the neuroscience of creativity.
Understand the difference between divergent and convergent
thinking, and how the combination of these two is the source
of creativity.
Learn various creative tools, to understand why and how such
tools work from a neurological perspective, and when to use
them.
Get practice with applying the creative tools in practice, while
reflecting and (if necessary) act on the ongoing neurological
processes, if these are limiting the creative process.
Throughout these four aspects ANC seeks to eliminate what
we have experienced as the three main assumptions hindering
creativity: (1) I’m not a creative person,(2)I don’t know how to
be creative and (3) I have no practice with being creative.Theneu-
robiology of creativity plays an all-important role for eliminating
the first, through understanding that all humans have a physical
potential for being creative, but it is also used to eliminate the two
latter through the introduction, explanation and exploration of
creative tools.
STRUCTURE
The ANC course is designed based on the structure of existing
successful creativity training programmes such as the Purdue Cre-
ative Thinking program (Feldhusen et al., 1970)andtheCreative
Problem-Solving program (Noller and Par nes, 1972). ANC makes
use of what is described above as the key factors for the success of
existing programmes: lengthy and challenging training, variou s
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Onarheim and Friis-Olivarius Applying the neuroscience of creativity to creativity training
FIGURE 1 | The Double Diamond (DD).
domain related exercises, real world application of heuristics,
and most importantly a sound conceptualization of cognitive
principles underlying creative efforts. The content is structured
in two parts: (1) a theoretical part giving the participants a funda-
mental understanding of the brain processes involved in creative
thought (3 weeks), and (2) a practical part where this knowledge
is sought applied through various creative tools used to solve a
real world creative challenge for a major international compan y
(5 weeks). The two parts are considered equally important in
the course, and the structure aims at allowing the participants to
unite theory and practice through collaboration and supervision,
with the neurological knowledge being the red thread throughout
the course. The weekly sessions after the theoretical part are
based on “studio teaching” (Green and Bonollo, 2003), known
from design and architecture schools, where short lectures are
accompanied with exercises, tutorials and team based project
work with supervision. In accordance with Baer’s (1996)findings
on domain specificity, the training is domain specific but the
underlying c onceptualizations taught are domain independent.
Aft er the theoretical part of the course the students design their
own creative tool or strategy, which they believe will facilitate
the newly acquired theoretical concepts in a creative process.
This exercise is used to force the students to reflect on the real
world applicability of the neurological concepts. They are then
introduced to a range of classic creative tools (e.g., classical
brainstorming, negative brainstorming/bad ideas, “what would
Jesus do” and brainwriting), and the five key concepts of the
NeuroCreativity model are used to explain why and when these
creative tools can be helpful to overcome or aid a cognitive
process, and what might be reasons for the tools not working in
certain situations.
CREATIVE PROCESS MODEL—THE DOUBLE DIAMOND
Once creative thinking is understood, a key feature is knowing
when to apply creative thinking and when to balance with crit-
ical thinking. While other creativity training programs focus on
descriptive models of creativity, ANC utilizes the simplistic pre-
scriptiveDoubleDiamond(DD;Figure 1) model developed by
the UK Design Council (Design Council, 2005), a model focusing
solely on combining periods of divergent thinking with periods of
convergent thinking, emphasizing that divergent thinking alone is
not a sufficient condition for creativity training (Persaud, 2007).
Although divergent thinking and convergent thinking are
separate cognitive processes these are of equal importance for
creativity. We argue that divergent thinking can be thought of
as a process that leads to novelty, and convergent thinking to
usefulness. The participants are thus introduced to the DD,
as one way of consciously seeking to combine divergent and
convergent thinking to come up with a solution that is both
novel and useful. As the ANC participants are master students
with at least 4 years of university studies, we consider them well
trained and experienced with conventional convergent thinking.
Instead of rejecting this thinking process, the teaching emphasizes
the importance of shifting between divergent and convergent
thinking.
COURSE EV ALUATIONS
On finishing the course, all students were asked to rate the course
through an independent assessment procedure carried out by the
universities. Of the 156 participants, 71 filled in the evaluation
(45.5%). The two universities CBS and UBC have slightly different
course evaluation formats. The CBS form contains two questions
considered related to the quality of the course, assessed on a
5-point scale from one “completely disagree to five completely
agree”. ANC was rated to averages of 4.5 for The course has
extensively increased my knowledge of the subject”and4.4for“My
overall impression of the course is positive. The UBC form contains
two questions considered related to the quality of the course, also
assessed on a 5-point scale from one strongly disagree to five
strongly agree. Here ANC achieved averages of 4.7 for The term
projects (papers, assignment etc.) provided a useful learning experi-
ence”and4.8for“I would recommend this course to other students”.
For all four questions this gives an average of 4.6 out of 5.0. Unfor-
tunately, neither of the universities disclose the average score of
other courses offered, but these rankings are considered as unusu-
ally high and being in the top-end of the scale (Bo T. Christensen,
study board chairman, personal communication). This indicates
that the course design and execution in general is successful.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
In the following we will present two sets of empirical data inves-
tigating the underlying hypothesis and the effectiveness of this
teaching method. The first data set is an isolated experiment with
none-ANC students, investigating whether an ANC lecture on
the neurobiology of creativity reduces the number of fixations
in a classical design fixation task (the full study is published in
Howard et al., 2013). The second set is a quantitative measure of
changes in the participants’ divergent thinking skills before and
after the ANC course, compared to a control group from two
courses with highly similar design but without the neuroscience
component. Lastly, we present the qualitative course evaluations
from the participants, as an indicator for what might cause the
effects shown in the analyses. This focuses on self-reported value
of the neurological knowledge and perceived increase in creative
ability.
FIXATION
As part of the process with testing the underlying hypothesis,
we have started a series of experiments outside the ANC course
context, where we investigate the impact of each of the five
key concepts independently. In the first of these experiments
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Onarheim and Friis-Olivarius Applying the neuroscience of creativity to creativity training
(Howard et al., 2013), we isolated the concept of fixation in a
controlled study with engineering students, to investigate whether
knowledge of the neurological concept of fixation would decrease
the number of fixation in a classical design fixation task. Twelve
teams of four engineering students were challenged with three
different design tasks, directly adopted from Jansson and Smith
(1991) seminal study on design fixation. Each of these design tasks
has built-in elements that initiates fixation, and is constructed
so the amount of design fixations in the final solutions can be
calculated. The subjects were explicitly told to avoid these design
fla ws. The experimental procedure was structured so that all
groups conducted a design task before and after an ANC lecture of
the neurobiology of creativity, including fixation as one of many
concepts, but without knowing that they were solving a design
task facilitating fixation, i.e., the true purpose of the experiment.
The order of the three design tasks was counterbalanced between
teams to account for differences in task difficulty. The lecture was
framed as a lecture in the neuroscience of creativity from the ANC
course, and fixation was only explained as a consequence of how
the brain makes associations. One of the hypotheses behind this
experiment was that an understanding of the associative brain
processes causing fixation would decrease the amount of fixations
in a real design task. Without any prior knowledge of fixation the
students generated a total of 86 designs (7.2 per team) with a total
of 76 fixation elements (fixation ratio: 0.88). With insights into
associative processes, 89 designs were generated (7.4 per group),
but with a significant drop in fixation elements to 48 (fixation
ratio: 0.53; p = 0.026). For a complete analysis see Howard et al.
(2013).
ASSESSING MEASURABLE CHANGES IN TRAIT CREATIVITY
The second set of empirical data investigates whether there are
measurable changes in trait creativity, measured as divergent
thinking in participants, following the 8-week intensive ANC
course. This is compared to a control group of students
participating in two highly similar elective courses, but without
the introduction to neuroscience. Divergent thinking was
measured before the first lecture, and again 8 weeks later with the
Alternative Uses Test (Guilford, 1967). In this test, participants
are instructed to write down as many alternative or unusual uses
for a common object. Besides being the most widely used test of
creativity (Davis, 1997; Cropley, 2000), used in approximately
40% of all studies with college students and adults (Torrance and
Presbury, 1984), several studies have documented its test-retest
reliability (e.g ., Mackler, 1962; Yamamoto, 1963) and it is a
recommended effectiveness-test of efforts when teaching students
how to think more creatively (Dehaan, 2011).
Participants
One hundred and forty seven students from CBS participated in
the study : 83 students from the ANC courses (fall 2012 and spring
2013) and 6 4 from the two non-neuro creativity (NNC) courses
(spring 2013). However not all participants were present at both
tests. Only those that completed both tests were included in the
analysis. In total, 99 students performed both tests (62 from the
ANC-courses and 37 from the control NNC-courses).
The NNC control group
As a perfect control group hardly exists in this line of research,
we have sought to find a control group with as many similarities
as possible but without the neurological conceptualization. As
the ANC course, the NNC control courses consisted of two
parts—one theoretical and one practical part. While the ANC
theoretical part is focusing on a neurological conceptualization of
creativity, the NNC courses depart in classical cognitive theories
of creativity. Where ANC goes more in depth with a neurological
understanding of the cognitive principles of creative thought,
the NNC courses are linking the cognitive aspects to artistic
and organizational understandings of creativity. Apart from this
fundamental difference, the two course types are similar both in
structure and in content. All courses were elective master level
courses at CBS, taught in the same studio, using studio teaching
and both with a duration of 8 weeks in the same period. Further-
more the NNC courses introduce the DD as the process model,
with equal amounts and duration of divergent and convergent
phases, and utilize an external real life creative challenge from a
major international company.
Materials and procedure
Based on the Alternative Uses Test, participants were instructed to
write down as many unusual uses they could possible think of for
a given common object, and were told not to include ordinary
or unrealistic uses for the object. Prior to all tests an example
was g iven for allowed and disallowed uses for an example object,
Paperclip. Ordinary use: hold paper together; unusual use: use
as an earring; unrealistic use: fly it to the moon. In each test
subjects were given three common objects and 3 min for each
object. Across all tests the following six objects were used: Brick,
Newspaper, Pen, Car t yre, Towel and Shoe. The ordering of the
common objects was counterbalanced between courses and tests,
so that the two ANC courses had the opposite three objects in
the first and second test and the same with the two NNC courses.
As many students at CBS are international students, subjects were
instructed to write in their native language, and after testing all
subjects scor ed their own test by counting the number of ideas for
each of the objects.
RESULTS
We used the traditional measure of creativity, which is the number
of uses generated in the Alternative Uses Test (fluency) (Glover
and Gary, 1976; Eisenberger et al., 1998). Although other per-
formance measures on this test can be measured (originality,
flexibility and elaboration), fluency accounts for almost all of
the variance on divergent thinking tests (Plucker and Renzulli,
1999). For both the ANC and control courses the distribution
of number of ideas generated was normally distributed in both
tests (ANC test one: mean = 9.2, SD = 3.3; test two: mean =
11.4, SD = 4.2; NNC test one: mean = 8.01, SD = 3.16; test
two: mean = 8.8, SD = 3.3). Using a mixed model repeated
measures ANOVA with Course (ANC vs. control) as between
participants factor and Time (pre vs. post training) as within
participant factor, we found a significant main effect of Course
between subjects [F(1, 97) = 7.58, p = 0.007] and a significant
main effect of Time within subjects [F(1, 97) = 20.2, p < 0.000]
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience www.frontiersin.or g October 201 3 | Volume 7 | Article 656 | 5
Onarheim and Friis-Olivarius Applying the neuroscience of creativity to creativity training
FIGURE 2 | The average number of uses generated per object on the
first and second test for each group. Error bars represent the standard
error of the mean.
as well as a significant interaction between Course × Time [F(1,
97) = 4.2, p = 0.043]. However, the two groups did not have the
same initial starting point, indicating that the sampling of subjects
between the two groups were not truly random. This was tested
using a simple paired t-test of the pre-training scores of the two
groups (p < 0.000). Due to this, we performed an analysis of
covariance (ANCOVA) with Gain scores as the response, Course
as design factor and the pre-training test as a covariate, thereby
taking initial differences in pre-training test scores into account.
Even after adjusting for differences in pre-training scores we still
found a significant difference in gain scores between the two
groups [F(2, 96) = 4.01, p = 0.0212, η
2
= 0.5], with ANC
showing the highest gain (ANC gain score = 2.2, SD = 3.5,
NNC gain score = 0.8, SD = 2.5), meaning that students in
the ANC course had a significantly higher increase in fluency
after the 8 week training period compared to the control NNC
courses. On the individual level, this constitutes an average rel-
ative increase in trait creativity of 28.5% for the ANC students.
For the NNC control group there was a slight increase between
the first and second test but not enough to reach significance
(two-tailed paired t-test; p = 0.06). While this increase may
have reached significance with a larger sample size, it was still
significantly lower than the ANC participants as shown by the
ANCOVA. The results from the two fluency tests are shown in
Figure 2 below.
Using linear regression we found a relationship between initial
level of trait creativity, and the individual increase (measured in
percentage) in divergent thinking on the second test, showing that
the lower the initial level of divergent thinking, the higher the
relative increase (r =−0.35; p = 0.0047; Figure 3). This suggests
that participants starting off with a low level of trait creativity
had most to gain from the course. However, it should be noted
that there is a natural ceiling effect in this test due to the time
constraint of the test (3 min per object). This evidently means
FIGURE 3 | The negative correlation between individual increase
calculated in percentage on the second test and performance on the
first test.
that if writing speed is kept constant, after a certain number of
ideas are reached the time constraint might be the limiting factor
rather than trait creativity.
QUALITATIVE COURSE EVALUATION
While it is repetitively shown that various forms of creativity
training work, the question of why it works remains unresolved.
For the dedicated training programmes alone, aspects such as
providing new strategies (Mumford et al., 2003), increasing moti-
vation (Birdi et al., 2012) and training thinking skills (Birdi,
2005) are considered. For the teaching environment Selvi (2007)
uses 18 existing studies to list as much as 28 factors said to
influence creativity in educational environments. To get a better
understanding of what might be reasons for the positive effect
of ANC, we have consulted the anonymous course evaluation
collected by the universities. It should be stressed that due to
the limited number of responses this qualitative data is merely
considered an interesting pointer to whether the neuroscience
component played an important role, and whether the students
perceived an effect on their creativity. Of the 71 participants filling
in the evaluation, 63 wrote additional comments for the course
(88.7%), and we have organized these comments in three cat-
egories: Neuroscience (any comment regarding the neuroscience
content of the course), Effects on creativity (any comment not in
the first category, related to perceived effects on creati vity and real
life applicability) and Other (e.g., curriculum, work load, exam
format). In the Neuroscience category there were 13 quotes (20.6%
of all comments) and all were positive. An example of such a
comment:
I love the way the course is built up! First of all getting a pure
neurobiological insig ht into creativity and afterwards getting to
practice the knowledge you’ve just learned, and deepening ones
awareness of mechanisms that take place during creative processes
and slowly learning how to handle it.
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience www.frontiersin.org October 2013 | Volume 7 | Article 656 | 6
Onarheim and Friis-Olivarius Applying the neuroscience of creativity to creativity training
The Effects on creativity category counted 10 comments
(15.9%), and again all were positive. An example of a comment
in this category:
A unique course which increased my level of creativit y and made
me aware of relevant aspects that happen on a daily basis. This
course also enabled me to use what I learned outside the class-
room, by applying this knowledge at work or at home.
The category Other contained the 40 remaining comments
(63.5%) which were not considered relevant for evaluating the
use of neuroscience, creativity or training of creativity. The par-
ticipants were not asked about the usefulness of neuroscience, or
effects on creativity, thus the fact that they freely chose to posi-
tively comment on these two topics is considered an affirmative
indicator for both the usefulness of neuroscience and the impact
on participants creativity.
LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH
When studying educational training , there are always more vari-
ablesthanonecancontrolprecisely,duetothecomplexityin
learning processes and constraints within educational systems.
One approach is to move back into the laboratory, but then we
usually lose the ability to study larger numbers of subjects and
some ecological validity, or the ability to trust findings as applying
to real world educational situations. So as in the business world,
one must often settle for the best control groups available, r ather
than perfect controls. One way to make up for these limitations is
to triangulate from multiple sources of data that speak to the same
overriding issue from different angles, as we have attempted here.
With that being said, there are still important limitations to our
studies. In the fixation study (Howard et al., 2013), there was no
control group and the results should thus be treated with caution,
as we cannot rule out practice effects. The decrease in fixation
could be due to the effect of solving a second design problem more
than the ANC lecture. However, this seems improbable as fixation
effects are known to build up over time (the more one works on
a problem, the higher the level of fixation) (Diehl and Stroebe,
1991; Nijstad, 2000) and we would hence expect an increase in
fixations in relation to practice effects. Also, as all of the partici-
pants were engineer students and experienced with solving these
kinds of design problems, we would expect practice effects in this
regard to be minimal. Fixation occurs more often with examples
that are typical and familiar in respect to a designer’s background
(Perttula and Liikkanen, 2006). Nonetheless, it still remains possi-
blethatthedecreaseinfixationfoundafteranANClectureonthe
neurological theory of how we make associations, could be due to
mentioning the phenomenon of fixation and thereby steering the
student’s attention to it. Even so, the subjects wer e explicitly told
to avoid the design flaws in the example designs, both before and
after the lecture, and thus their attention to the fixation features in
the design examples should be comparable. Although their atten-
tion may have been steered towards the concept of fixation, this
effect alone does not seem to be able to account for the decrease in
fixation. Previous research has shown an inability to avoid fixation
effects at the conceptual level, also known as cryptomnesia or
unconsious plagiarism (Brown and Murphy, 1989), for engineer
students (Perttula and Liikkanen, 2006) as well as for professional
designers, even those that teach design on a regular basis and thus
are familiar with the concept of fixation (Linsey et al., 2010).
In the second data set the NNC control group showed a lower
initial starting point in divergent thinking skills. We have no
indication of any discernable factors that b iased some students
to take one course over the other, or discernable differences in
educational or personal backgrounds. Still, with the current data
set, we cannot determine whether the pre-training difference was
simply due to chance, the lower sample size in the control group,
or even factors such as motivation. Therefore, our results could be
affected by other factors than the neurological conceptualization,
although this appears to be the only essential difference between
the groups. Future studies should include how well each par-
ticipant understood the neurological content of the course, and
include groups with and without practical training, as this could
be the next step towards determining the true contribution of the
neurological conceptualization of creativity.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
In this paper we have investigated the validity and effectiveness
of using neuroscience as a framework for creativity training.
While previous research has shown that successful training of
creativity can be achieved through first teaching the underlying
concepts of creativity and then how to apply these in a real world
context, no study has, to the best of our knowledge, previously
used neuroscience as a framework for training c reativity. Our
findings support the hypothesis that a tangible understanding of
the neurological underpinnings of creative thought improves the
divergent thinking aspect of creativity.
The ANC course is based on a simple principle: the more
one understands about the basic ways our brain functions in
relation to creativity, the more one is able to utilize ones full
creative potential. Testing this, we found a significant increase in
divergent thinking measured at the first day of the ANC course
and again at the last (period of 8 weeks), using the Alternative
Uses Test. This test was also performed on a control group
from two highly similar courses, where the essential difference
is considered to be the use of neuroscience as conceptualization.
At the individual level participants in the ANC course had an
average relative increase in divergent thinking ability of 28.5%
after completing the course, while we found only a small and non-
significant increase in the scores of the control group. Analyzing
the covariance we found that the increase in fluency in the ANC
course was significantly higher than that of the control group,
even when adjusted for differences in pre-training scores. These
results demonstrate that a thorough conceptualization and under-
standing of the neurological activity underlying creative thought
can indeed influence cognitive performance. This was shown for
the divergent thinking test, as well as for the realistic design
tasks in the fixation experiment (Howard et al., 2013). This study
investigated design fixation in engineering students, and similarly
demonstrated that specific knowledge of the neurological basis
for how we make associations (20 min lecture) could in an
experimental setting significantly reduce the number of fixations
in realistic design tasks (ibid).
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience www.frontiersin.or g October 201 3 | Volume 7 | Article 656 | 7
Onarheim and Friis-Olivarius Applying the neuroscience of creativity to creativity training
Previous studies of creativity training programs have been
criticized for lacking internal and external validity (Cropley, 1997;
Nickerson, 1999). The tests used are often very similar, or identi-
cal, to the training material. To ensure internal validity we used a
divergent thinking test where participants generated u nusual uses
of common objects, a task that is unrelated to the content of the
training. The ANC course focuses on combining divergent and
convergent thinking, and do not provide any training designed
specifically for improving performance on divergent thinking
tests. Furthermore, no creativity tools or methods taught in the
course are designed to generate unusual uses for common objects.
The external validity issues in similar studies are related to sample
type and size, as studies are often from school settings with small
groups of young students, blurring the transfer value to other
settings. We used a large sample of final year master students, and
domain specific training with a real world challenge, while the
effect of the training was assessed with a domain independent test.
As divergent thinking tests are often wrongly referred to as a
measure of creativity, we must emphasize that these kinds of tests
are only a measure of the potential to be creative. Although this is
an important indicator of creati vity, it must not be confused with
actual creativity. Divergent thinking is one of many components
of creativity, as there is much more to creativity than the number
of ideas one can produce. Creative ability is generally believed
to be equally based on knowledge and analytic thinking. For
example Sternberg and Lubart (1992)arguedthatcreativityis
a function of six factors: intelligence, knowledge, thinking style,
personality, motivation and environmental context. However,
divergent thinking does have its validity in assessing important
aspects of creative ability and in this case changes to that ability.
According to Guilford (1959) and many others, divergent thinking
provides the foundation for creative production, as it requires
ideational searching without directional boundaries. Similarly,
Robinson (2001) has argued that divergent thinking is the “essen-
tial capacity for creativit y”. This is in line with the philosophy of
the course, as the point is not to “become creative, but instead
learning to fully utilize ones existing divergent (and convergent)
thinking skills—and solely based on how the comprehension of
the neurological underpinnings increase ones creative potential.
The underlying assumption of this hypothesis is that creativity
is a natural component of human thought, one that we all hav e
to a varying degree, but one that not all have learned to harvest.
This view has been confirmed by an impressive study where 1600
children were given a divergent thinking test at age five and
again at age ten and 15. Compared to 280,000 adults, 98% of
the children started out at creative genius level, which rapidly
decreaseswithagetowardstheadultlevel(2%)(Land and Jarman,
1992). As these authors pointed out it seems that non-creative
behavior is learned”. Our results support this postulation, as one
would predict that if creativity were the natural baseline, those
who had “un-learned” creati vity the most, would also show the
greatest increase—returning towards the natural baseline. Indeed,
we found a negative correlation between initial level of divergent
thinking ability and the individual relative increase on the second
test, indicating that those with the lowest levels of trait creativity
had most to gain from the course. In fact, we believe that the
neurological knowledge in the ANC course plays an important
role in convincing the participants that they each hold the physical
potential to be creative, and thus a change in perception and
related self-esteem could potentially account for some of the
improvement. The following quote from the qualitative feedback
outlines this nicely:
The knowledge of neurobiology (i.e., neuroscience), in my view
is very useful. Firstly, it cleans my long-held misunderstanding
regarding creativity and genetics. Secondly , the facts and infor-
mation learned dur ing the classe s are important in my future
discussion on creativity with others. I believe it is important
to educate people to understand that creativity is n ot all about
genetics and innate intelligence. Lastly, the study leads to personal
encouragement to find ways to improve my creativity.
It is also considered a promising indicator that 20.6% of the
qualitative comments were uninvitedly reporting positively on
the neuroscience aspects. And considering neuroscience as the
only essential difference between ANC and NNC, the significant
difference in increase of trait creativity between the two imply that
neuroscience is a crucial element. We see the evidence presented
in this paper as indicating that the neurological conceptualization
used in the course plays a crucial role for the positive effect of the
training.
Still, as with other successful creativity training programs, the
question of exactly why creativity training works and in this case
the neural aspect of ANC, cannot be answered with the current
data set. However, based on our experience and conversations
with students, there seems to be several contributing factors.
As mentioned, one that is often brought to our attention and
seemingly of most importance is the insight that the creative
process from a neural perspective is innate (in the prewired sense)
and as natural as breathing. Several students have even reported
this as a life changing realization, as many start the course with the
assumption I’m not a creative person. On the other hand, some
students may hold the belief that they are creative, but then do
not appear to know how to be creative or are confused on how to
structure the creative process. Thus, although the enhancement
of creative self-efficacy might be the main aspect in the success of
ANC, it is more likely an interplay of learning to trust ones own
creativity and knowing how to utilize that creativity and attaining
creative experience. This combination could conceivably ease
creative task performance, hence the fluency of ideas. However,
although these achievements are of apparent importance for cre-
ativity, they do not seem unique for the ANC course. The control
NNC course presumably provide similar comprehensions, if not
through neuroscience at least through experience from working
creatively in the course. Nonetheless, it may be that a change in
meta-knowledge of creative processes can alter the way people
approach creativity tasks, and that the neural conceptualization
used in ANC is more efficient at providing this. Ironically, the
explanation of why the neural approach in ANC is more successful
is then perhaps found at a more neurobiological level.
Scott et al. (2004) emphasize the importance of sound concep-
tualizations of creativity for successful training. In our point of
view there is no more sound and rational conceptualization for
creativity than the neurological mechanisms underlying creative
thought.
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience www.frontiersin.or g October 201 3 | Volume 7 | Article 656 | 8
Onarheim and Friis-Olivarius Applying the neuroscience of creativity to creativity training
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Conflict of Interest Statement:The
authors declare that the research was
conducted in the absence of any com-
mercial or financial relationships that
could be construed as a potential con-
flict of interest.
Received: 06 May 2013; accepted: 21
September 2013; published online: 16
October 2013.
Citation: Onarheim B and Friis-
Olivarius M (2013) Applying the
neuroscience of creativity to creativity
training. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 7:656.
doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00656
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... The perspective on the creative person shows that there are differences on the individual level [29]. It is important that the creative abilities on that level can be trained and learned and are not only determined by gens -which is a widely known mindset [6,28]. This perspective opens opportunities for IS research by enhancing creativity through the use of technology or software [6]. ...
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... Indeed, several approaches towards basing Educational practices in Cognitive Neuroscience have been emerging in different places of the world. The initial reasonable skepticism (Bruer, 1997) has been replaced by optimistic approaches applying Cognitive Neuroscience to Education in reading (Hruby et al., 2011;Potier Watkins et al., 2019), mathematics (Halberda et al., 2008;Dillon et al., 2017;Judd and Klingberg, 2021), social skills learning (Gerdes et al., 2011), science education (Zimmerman andKlahr, 2018), motivation (Di Domenico andRyan, 2017) attention (Stevens and Bavelier, 2012), conceptual development (Mareschal, 2016) and creativity (Onarheim and Friis-Olivarius, 2013) among others [but see Bowers (2016) for criticism of the neurobiological aspects of these approaches]. A few years ago, as we started participating in the regional effort to develop Cognitive Neuroscience and its applications to Education we sought to produce applications to Education. ...
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In recent decades, Cognitive Neuroscience has evolved from a rather arcane field trying to understand how the brain supports mental activities, to one that contributes to public policies. In this article, we focus on the contributions from Cognitive Neuroscience to Education. This line of research has produced a great deal of information that can potentially help in the transformation of Education, promoting interventions that help in several domains including literacy and math learning, social skills and science. The growth of the Neurosciences has also created a public demand for knowledge and a market for neuro-products to fulfill these demands, through books, booklets, courses, apps and websites. These products are not always based on scientific findings and coupled to the complexities of the scientific theories and evidence, have led to the propagation of misconceptions and the perpetuation of neuromyths. This is particularly harmful for educators because these misconceptions might make them abandon useful practices in favor of others not sustained by evidence. In order to bridge the gap between Education and Neuroscience, we have been conducting, since 2013, a set of activities that put educators and scientists to work together in research projects. The participation goes from discussing the research results of our projects to being part and deciding aspects of the field interventions. Another strategy consists of a course centered around the applications of Neuroscience to Education and their empirical and theoretical bases. These two strategies have to be compared to popularization efforts that just present Neuroscientific results. We show that the more the educators are involved in the discussion of the methodological bases of Neuroscientific knowledge, be it in the course or as part of a stay, the better they manage the underlying concepts. We argue that this is due to the understanding of scientific principles, which leads to a more profound comprehension of what the evidence can and cannot support, thus shielding teachers from the false allure of some commercial neuro-products. We discuss the three approaches and present our efforts to determine whether they lead to a strong understanding of the conceptual and empirical base of Neuroscience.
... 1 Creativity can be assumed to be the necessary component for both concepts and is normally defined as the process of developing new and original ideas that are somehow appropriate for a specific purpose and thereby bringing value. 2 However, creativity is neither only a narrow concept describing how new ideas originate on an individual level, nor is it a mysterious attribute that only a lucky few possess, in deed it is demonstrated how trait creativity can be trained and nurtured in students. 3 Moreover, creativity research is becoming an increasingly broad field of study interested in e.g. organizational creativity and the components of the creative process 4 as well as e.g. ...
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This dissertation presents three years of research on how design processes in game jams and hackathons can be understood as accelerated. Hackathons and game jams can both be described as formats where participants engage in designing and developing prototypes during an intentionally short time frame, such as 48 hours, which is meant to facilitate creativity, and encourage fast decision making and rapid prototyping. Game jams and hackathons are organised in many different contexts and for many different purposes as well, such as: internally in companies to spark new ideas; for fostering citizen innovation for municipalities; in cultural and governmental agencies; integral parts of education; entry points for developers wanting to enter especially the game industry (Olesen, 2020; Kultima, 2015). During the recent decade, game jams and hackathons have been introduced to academia as well, as formats for teaching and learning, and as research platforms as well. Only few research contributions engage with understanding how accelerated design processes in game jams and hackathons unfold, or how the organisation of game jam and hackathon formats influence these accelerated design processes. The main contributions of my PhD project are: 1) Descriptive process-level knowledge, which contextualise and solidify how accelerated design processes unfold under the circumstances of a game jam and a hackathon. 2) Overviews of how game jams have been organised for supporting participants' creativity and of how hackathons have been used as means and as research focus within academia. 3) Exploring how game jam and hackathon formats may be organised in order to support knowledge generation such as within academia, and in order to support creativity.
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