We’re all creative! Just… Differently

Creativity is often conceptualized as an ability to generate something new, typically in an unusual way (Eisenman, 1969; Merriam-Webster, 2015). For example, while scientists can be creative in the way they design an experiment that utilizes an alternative approach, artists can be creative in the way they detour from convention in their artwork. It may initially seem that each example is unique; a scientist using an unconventional procedure is not identical to an artist creating abstract art to convey his or her message. However, the broad definition is still applicable such that, in each situation, the individual is creating his or her own unique interpretation on how the task can be completed. Thus, these cases show that creativity can be utilized in a vast array of situations and that there is a universal, general form of creativity that can apply to different ways.

To better visualize and experience this argument, let’s do a couple creativity exercises!

Although each of those exercises was about creativity, did you feel yourself thinking the same way or going through the same mental processes? Are your creative associations in exercise 1 the same as your creative solutions to your visual boundaries in exercise 4?

Although creativity has a broad definition, that isn’t to say it can’t manifest itself into different forms. Just as creativity was earlier discussed to occur within different fields, and just as the exercises you completed look at different aspects of creativity, many existing research studies compare different forms of creativity. For example, Schubert and Biondi (1976) distinguishes between 2 major categories of creativity: one resulting in tangible products, and the other in new responses to daily challenges which may or may not be tangible. However, as I have also argued, these are considered to be involved in the same creative process. Referring back to the example exercises from earlier, although exercise 4 specifically involves manipulation of visual boundaries and exercise 2 involves visual flexibility, in each case you are creating your own unique interpretation on how the task can be completed.

One research study looked at a potential biological mechanism for creativity in undergraduates. In their experiment, Fink et al. (2012) used a German cognitive ability test (the Berliner Intelligenz-Struktur-Test) to test participant’s ability to operate creatively with verbal stimuli, respond creatively to given situations, or to generate original uses of everyday objects. As illustrated in the measure, these researchers are measuring multiple specific types of creativity. However, what’s particularly interesting is that the results revealed that verbal creativity was significantly and positively associated with gray matter density in clusters involving the right cuneus (Brodmann area 17) and the right precuneus (Brodmann area 7).

These areas in the visual cortex were previously believed to be associated with a wide variety of functions including visuo-spatial imagery, episodic memory retrieval, and self-processing operations, namely first-person perspective taking and an experience of agency (Cavanna & Trimble, 2006). Increasing the gray matter means that the neural connections are increasing which, specifically in relation to areas highly correlated with vision and memory retrieval, implies that creativity is associated with accurate visual processing as well as utilizing previous experiences (possible shortcuts or solutions). Again though, as with the science vs. art comparison, each of these types of creativity involves generating something new, oftentimes in an uncommon, creative way.

Further thoughts and additional reading:

Personality plays a significant role in the degree to which someone may be creative. Although none of the conventional Big Five traits directly apply to creativity (although some are closely related, such as openness to new experiences), there are also various tools that can be used to measure the broadness of creativity across various personality traits. One study that embraces the universality of this broad definition is that of Kaufman, Pumaccahua, and Holt (2013). They begin their study by arguing for the necessity of assessing creativity for all majors and thus utilize part of the Self Assessment of Creativity measure from Kaufman and Baer (2004) across all factors of the RIASEC model. The RIASEC (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional) is a theory of personality that focuses on career and vocational choice (Liao et al., 2008). While each of these subsets may have their own specific example of creativity, Kaufman et al. (2013) argue that they should all be considered as creative. Are they all the same though? Does creativity vary based on personality trait?

For the answer to the creativity exercises: http://glencoe.com/sec/busadmin/entre/teacher/creative/stimulate/index.htm


Cavanna, A., & Trimble, M. (2006). The precuneus: A review of its functional anatomy and behavioural correlates. Brain: A Journal of Neurology, 129(3), 564-583. doi:10.1093/brain/awl004

Eisenman, R. (1969). Creativity and academic major: Business versus English majors. Journal of Applied Psychology, 53(5), 392-395. doi:10.1037/h0028075

Fink, A., Koschutnig, K., Hutterer, L., Steiner, E., Benedek, M., Weber, B., & … Weiss, E. M. (2014). Gray matter density in relation to different facets of verbal creativity. Brain Structure & Function, 219(4), 1263-1269. doi:10.1007/s00429-013-0564-0

Kaufman, J., & Baer, J. (2004). Sure, I’m creative—But not in mathematics!: Self-reported creativity in diverse domains. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 22(2), 143-155.

Kaufman, J., Pumaccahua, T., & Holt, R. (2013). Personality and creativity in realistic, investigative, artistic, social, and enterprising college majors. Personality And Individual Differences, 54(8), 913-917. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2013.01.013

Liao, H., Armstrong, P., & Rounds, J. (2008). “Development and initial validation of public domain basic interest markers”. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 73, 159-183.

Merriam-Webster (2015). Creativity. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/creativity

Schubert, D., & Biondi, A. (1976). Creativity and mental health: II. Types of creativity. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 10(1), 67-70.


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