15 scientific “facts” about creativity

Individual Creativity

Interesting collection of 15 scientific findings related to creativity.

Originally posted over at Online University.

Although creativity keeps human society flourishing, science honestly offers few answers to how the intricate, infinitely complex concept actually works. No matter how much research pours into measuring and grasping the essential phenomenon, it seems as if more questions pop up than receive tangible answers. Theories and findings sometimes conflict with one another as well, meaning every “fact” presented here might very well end up discarded in due time. But that’s par for the course when exploring what seems almost entirely inexplicable.
1. Stress kills creativity     Just like it kills mental health, the heart, and pretty much everything else. Stress negatively impacts creative expression, particularly when it involves rigid timeframes and criteria. According to psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein, no gene or any other factor predisposes some individuals toward creativity and others not (this perspective is, obviously, disputed). External factors such as stress play a much heavier role in determining innovation than anything intrinsic.
2. Those considered geniuses describe their creative processes as trancelike   Dr. Nancy Andreasen, who wrote The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius, may not be able to scientifically explain how creativity and genius emerge, but she does know how they inspire and impact the great thinkers. All people experience moments of “ordinary creativity,” which permeates daily tasks. But the artist, composers, scientists, writers, and others qualifying as geniuses typically talk of oneiric “flashes” setting off their most notable, iconic works.
3. A connection between dopamine production and creativity might exist  Because dopamine increases along with positive reinforcement and other rewards, some neurobiologists (like Dr. David Sweatt) believe it easily correlates with creativity, too. Either receiving money or the simple satisfaction of a job well done might stimulate levels of innovation, and dopamine in kind. Such a link still exists as a theory, albeit one that does go a long way in explaining the sometimes inexplicable.
4. Perception is the first step to nurturing the creative spark  All creative pursuits start when the thinker perceives an external stimulus and processes it in his and/or her mind. More complex than merely seeing, the “engines of our ingenuity” hook up imagery with imagination. Personal differences in this inevitable linkage lead to creative output and adroitly explain why some people end up with the particular results they do and keep society pushing forward.
5. Creativity might correlate with brain chemistry and structure  Theories regarding creativity’s true origins abound, and some think one’s aptitude may be determined by his or her brain chemistry and structure. University of New Mexico’s Rex Jung believes that if you have less of certain neurological phenomena, you’re better off when it comes to creative pursuits. Specific chemicals froth about in smaller dosages, while white matter sits weaker and the frontal lobe’s cortical regions are thinner. Interestingly enough, brains testing higher on intelligence tests feature the exact opposite composition. Generally speaking, of course.
6. Creative thinkers have slower nerves  During creative moments, the left frontal cortex experiences comparatively more sluggish activity, which also correlates with the aforementioned decreased white matter and connecting axons. Unlike intelligence, creativity tends to thrive when thinking slows down, although “flashes” of inspiration and insight occur with the speed of flashes. Emotions and some cognitive processes happen in this particular region as well, which scientists such as Dr. Jung believe encourage abstract and novelty thought processes.
7. “Psychological distance” facilitates creativity  When hitting a creative snag, the best thing thinkers can do for themselves is step away and try to look at everything from a completely different point of view. Studies have shown that the most consistently creative individuals display a willingness to approach their challenges from a wide variety of angles beyond their initial inklings. Putting some space between original perspectives and newer ones encourages abstract thinking, a crucial component in the inventive process.
8. Early research into creativity divided it up into three separate subsections  Mel Rhodes’ inquiries into the creative mind — which required him to research around 50 takes on the subject — eventually led him to break everything down into the person, process, and environment components. The person element, as you can probably guess, involves one’s unique set of characteristics needed to think and perceive things in an innovative, abstract fashion. Actually understanding and formulating ideas and results is known as process, and environment means the internal and external milieu in which the creative individual works.
9. Aerobic exercise increases one’s creative potential  When brain fog starts rolling in, try a moderate amount of aerobic exercise to try and clear it up. Rhode Island College scientists noted that the two hours after engaging in such rigorous physical activity proved some of the most mentally fertile in a 2005 study. They used the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking to measure how well the participating thinkers performed with and without exercise.
10. Creativity might plummet if it becomes a means to a rewarding end  Although from 1987, this study’s findings showcase just how largely unknowable creativity’s true face is these days, as it conflicts with some more contemporary theories despite making just as much sense. Tests conducted on Brandeis University creative writing students noted a dive in their motivation and thoughts regarding their work when receiving rewards for their efforts. They approached poetry with a lessened sense of intrinsic interest, a finding which ended up applying to situations beyond the creative.
11. Improvisation stimulates the brain’s language centers  fMRIs and improvised jazz form the crux of surgeon Charles Limb’s pioneering maps of the creative process. His TEDxMidAtlantic lecture discussed his fascinating findings regarding the physiology behind musical improvisation, specifically, how it makes the Broca’s Area light up like the Fourth of July. Brain scientists think this part is responsible for language development and cognition, implying that one of the body’s most essential organs might recognize music (and maybe even other expressive pursuits) as akin to speech.
12. Bilingualism and multilingualism might improve one’s creative skills  Researchers “may not have had [their] EUREKA moment” when it comes to proving a link between bi- and multilingualism, but compelling evidence certainly exists. Individuals capable of speaking more than one language generally display more competent multitasking skills and improved cognition, both usually labeled key ingredients to creative thinking. Most telling, however, is that they seem better able to analyze situations and stimuli from multiple angles, which nearly everyone attempting to define creativity considers essential.
13. Creative people are more likely to be dishonest  That doesn’t mean all creative folks ought not be trusted, nor that their opposites are always the most honest sorts, of course. But individuals capable of more novel and abstract thoughts — and possessing more flexible moral fibers — “enjoy” a higher risk of less-than-trustworthy behaviors. Multiple studies show that the ability to concoct more solid, viable stories and view scenarios and stimuli from many angles dull the chances of getting caught.
14. High IQ and creativity might correlate with one another  Harvard, like many other institutions of higher learning, hopes to try and unlock creativity’s beautiful and bizarre secrets. Dr. Shelley Carson, notable for developing a new standard to measure the mysterious phenomenon, wants to try and find a definitive relationship between intelligence and creative thinking. Some of her earlier studies note that both increase together at the 120, 130, and 150 IQ levels, but more research is needed to prove any sort of solid correlation.
15. So yeah. Creativity and mental illness might very well coincide  Painting all creative types as insane — particularly the influential and genius — always has been and probably always will be a rather tired cliché, albeit a cliché that might actually hold some cachet. Their brains have been proven to open up more to external sources and possess greater memory capacity than others, but such a perk does come burdened with some unfortunate side effects. Overstimulation might very well result, which can pique (or worsen) anxiety and depressive disorders.

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