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A Brief Review of Creativity

A Brief Review of Creativity

Johanna E. Dickhut
Rochester Institute of Technology

In this report, creativity is explored and defined in regards to novelty and appropriateness, and the thought mechanisms behind creativity are investigated. Personality traits of psychoticism and intelligence are discussed in regards to creativity, and intelligence is thought to be the main characteristic for creativity. Future possibilities of creativity are also addressed.

"Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found."

--James Russell Lowell

Often times creativity is thought to be artistic, lofty, intelligent, out-of-the-ordinary, and beyond understanding. However, creativity comes in much simpler forms such as formulating a solution to an everyday problem; if someone runs out of fuel on the highway, the person must think of a way to get to his/her destination, and this requires creativity even if it is in its simplest form. Creativity can be observed in the unusual as well. For instance, Craig Wallace, now a college freshman, developed a nuclear fusion reactor out of junkyard parts and cheap finds. Creativity is not just the writings of Descartes or the oil paintings of Klimt, so what is it?

What Is Creativity?

After exhaustive research, Morgan (1953) listed the universal factor for creativity to be novelty (Cropley, 1999). Novelty requires originality and newness. There must be something fresh to the idea.

Sternberg and Lubert (1995) proposed that novelty must be coupled with appropriateness for something to be considered creative. Novelty can be the coalescence of any two or more different things or thoughts. For instance, Damien Hirst is a controversial artist who has sliced animals into fragments, but many people do not consider this creative even though it is novel and original. Many people do not recognize the factor of appropriateness in his work and consider it to be feckless.

Although creativity can be seen in the products, it can also be considered in terms of the process. Weisberg (1986) proposes that creativity can be defined by the novel use of tools to solve problems or novel problem solving. Dr. Gunther von Hagens has in the past few years started exhibiting the dissected and transfigured bodies of people. Professor von Hagens is a medical professor at the University of Heidelberg who perfected plastic injection into bodily tissue. This is a novel use of tools to solve the problem of decay and distortion from old methods of preserving human tissue. The end product is creative because of the creative use of tools.

Ward, Finke, and Smith (1995) defined creativity in the products made, the differences in people, the pressures that motivate, and the processes behind creativity. The products made are new and fresh which is the clearest example of creativity. However, there are defining subtleties in people; for example, some people are considered to be more creative than others, and in addition to inherent differences in people, there are different motivations for creativity (e.g., some people are driven to create). Finally, the process for creativity can be different. Some people seclude themselves while others seek guidance and dialogue.

While there is debate over the guidelines for judging creativity, two things remain: novelty and appropriateness. These two things may be viewed in the product, the tools, the people, the motivation, and/or the processes, but these are the two necessary ingredients.

What Is the Mechanism Behind Creativity?

"Creativity becomes more visible when adults try to be more attentive to the cognitive processes of children than to the results they achieve in various fields of doing and understanding."

--Loris Malaguzzi

In the past, there was a great deal of mystery and awe involved with creativity and creative undertakings. In ancient Roman and Greek times, poets would invoke the gods to assist them in their writing. These poetic devices (e.g., metaphors and similes) are prime examples of creativity. They are novel and appropriate, but people did not understand from where these thoughts and ideas came. There was speculation that divine intervention inspired the writers.

In the more recent past, creativity was thought to stem from unconscious thought processes (Weisberg, 1986). This was probably due in large part to the Freudian approach to psychology which emphasized unconscious thoughts. According to this perspective, the unconscious would arrive at creative thoughts, and these thoughts would be pushed to the conscious after being formulated. Naturally, since the unconscious thought process can never be known, there was no way of understanding how this process occurred.

Wallas (1926) proposed that creativity involves four consecutive stages: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification (Bogen & Bogen, 2003). During preparation, the person absorbs information. During incubation, the information settles. During illumination, the solution manifests itself to the person, and during verification, the final product is created.

Recently, Gabora (2002) asserts that the creative process requires a thought shift from associative thinking to cause and effect thinking. Associative thinking might reveal some correlation or relationship between two things, but this correlation might not provide a solution and might not be appropriate. This replaces the preparation and incubation stages of creativity. There is then a shift to cause and effect thinking which is analytical and searches for a direct solution and for appropriateness. This replaces the illumination and verification stages of creativity.

It is reasonable that the cognitive process for generating creative ideas does not stem from the unconscious nor follows a rigid procedure, but instead it transforms and evolves a collection of old ideas into new ones. This transformation and evolution may occur through a cognitive shift as Gabora (2002) suggested.

What Are the Personality Bases for Creativity?

"There was never a genius without a tincture of madness."


There is a great deal of debate for what makes someone creative or not. Just as Aristotle said in the above quotation, some believe that creative genius is contingent on insanity or mental illness. Vincent Van Gogh has been cited as a “mad genius” in regard to his own self-mutilation (i.e., cutting off his own ear) and his art work. Because of the mystery surrounding creativity, people were uncertain about what underlying traits made some people highly creative and others not.

Eysenck (1995) proposed that psychoticism caused creativity. Rawlings, Twomey, Burns, and Morris (1998) found a relationship between creativity, psychoticism, and openness to experience. Additionally, Martindale and Dailey (1996) found that creativity is linked to psychoticism and extraversion, and this link is due to the commonality between psychoticism and extraversion of disinhibition.

Aguilar-Alonso (1996) found that verbal creativity could be predicted by intelligence and psychoticism, but creative behavior in drawing could be predicted by the ability to perceive differences and extraversion, not intelligence and psychoticism. This suggests that creative behavior is complex in regards to various personality traits.

Despite this support for psychoticism being the basis for creativity, there have been researchers that have not found creativity to be related to psychoticism. Kline and Cooper (1986) conducted an experiment using the EPQ and tests for creative behavior and did not find psychoticism to be related to creativity on all levels as proposed by Eysenck.

Sternberg (2001) proposed that there is a dialectical relationship between creativity and intelligence and wisdom. Intelligence is necessary for there to be creativity because not only is generation of novel ideas necessary but the critical analysis of novel ideas is also necessary. To be able to generate novel ideas, there must be some basic intelligence, but to further analyze those ideas that are generated, there must be higher intelligence. Sternberg (2001) uses the example of Charles Darwin's theories in evolution. Charles Darwin was thought to be a creative because of his high intelligence – he was able to generate the idea of evolution and to critically analyze it against other possibilities. If his analysis had not been intelligent, then his creativity could have been a chance happening, or it would not have been his theory of evolution in the first place.

Beyond intelligence, there must also be “wisdom” because intelligence alone is not sufficient (Sternberg, 2001). Wisdom is considered by Sternberg (2001) to be the balance between creativity and intelligence relegating the novel ideas according to their appropriateness. It may be easy enough to generate novel ideas, but wisdom will distinguish the reasonable from the unreasonable. A creative and intelligent person may produce a novel idea, but without wisdom, the novel idea may be “foolish” or inappropriate (Sternberg, 2001).

It is reasonable that creativity would be more closely linked to intelligence than to psychoticism considering the proposed cognitive processes underlying creativity. With a higher intelligence, more knowledge could be acquired, and thus more similarities and dissimilarities could be known in order to make connections between two ideas. Through this understanding, novel and appropriate results could be found and tested. Although psychoticism could lead to an increase of novel ideas, that does not mean that the necessary appropriateness would be present. As discussed before, novelty must be paired with appropriateness for there to be creativity.

Where Is the Direction for Future Study of Creativity?

There is a profound interest in developing creativity as a function of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Creativity has been considered an intrinsic function of replicating human cognition. It involves innovation which has not been fully replicated in technology. Systems have been developed to make decisions, but so far, these decisions have been predictable. Creativity involves the unpredictable.
Desiano and Desiano (1995) break down the programming into clarification and generation. From there, they further break down the tasks to program AI to have creativity. These smaller tasks are as follows: analysis, logic, reasoning, problem solving, association, synthesis, and evaluation and judgement. However, the programming would be very difficult, and the tasks are ambiguous and broad.

Hoorn (2002) believes that computer programs can be taught to be creative by programming knowledge, resources, and similarities between objects and ideas to create novel approaches and things. This requires creating a large database from which the technology will work. This database will have to include basic facts about objects for instance, and from these basic facts, programs will be coded to recognize similarities between the objects. Through recognizing these ideas, the programs will be combine objects in order to develop something novel and appropriate.

In addition to developing creativity in AI, there is a profound interest in encouraging creativity in education. There has always been an emphasis on educating and nurturing certain qualities in children, and creativity is one such quality. With increasing knowledge about the processes involved in creativity, there is greater hope for teaching creativity.

Poon Teng Fatt (2000) suggests diversity in the classroom setting through changing the physical environment, the learning tools, and class discussion. It is suggested that through unique experiences, unique cognitions will be encouraged. By changing the environment and learning tools, children will be able to make better connections between things and thoughts and will not be so restricted. By encouraging class discussion, banter and wit will be encouraged along with the sharing of ideas and experiences.

Park and Heisler (1995) suggests creativity can be fostered through physical education programs and the program can be utilized in other areas. This program has 5 stages which focuses on high school students. In the first stage, students engage in physical exploration. In the second stage, students learned safety skills such as first aid. In the third stage, students learn how to guide other students specifically elementary school children. In the fourth stage, the students administered state and national fitness tests, and in the fifth stage, students taught elementary school children physical education. This program emphasized open-ended learning which is thought to foster creativity.

McIntyre (1993) suggests that creativity can be encouraged through students doing various creative exercises. The format for these exercises are done in 5 steps. In the first step, the exercise or problem is presented to the class. In the second step, students are to create solutions or ideas about the exercise. In the third step, the students form into groups to consolidate and discuss solutions developed in the second step. In the fourth step, decisions are made by the group as to what the best solution is, and in the fifth step, the groups present their solution to the class, and the class discusses the solutions presented. These exercises are thought to foster innovative ideas through individual creation and through group creation.

Along with encouraging creativity in children, there is a push to encourage creativity in business. With all businesses, there is the issue of innovation and new ideas which are the result of creation and creativity. To stay on top, businesses must develop new ideas to beat the competition, so naturally there is a drive to encourage creativity in employees.

Simpson (2001) suggests that creativity can be fostered if the work climate is right in the following areas: challenge and involvement, freedom, trust/openness, idea time, playfulness/humor, conflict resolution, idea support, debates, and risk taking. This like Poon Teng Fatt's (2000) theory emphasizes the gathering of ideas in groups and the fostering for the free flow of ideas.


Once considered to be the result of insanity or divine intervention, now the mystery behind creativity is slowly being revealed. There has been much debate over what exactly creativity is, and now creativity is believed to be characterized by novel and appropriate ideas, products, and/or use of tools. It was once thought that creativity was caused by psychoticism, but now it is considered to be a series of cognitions following some sort of process. The process is not precisely known, but there are thoughtful speculations which remove the mystery from creativity and the stigma that it is only being possessed by geniuses.
With all this new information, there is a great deal of implementation. AI is now being considered to be more alive if it possesses creativity, and theories are quickly being developed as to how to program creativity. Education is attempting to encompass creativity in addition to the acquisition of hard facts and other skills, and business is noticing the importance of creativity in furthering growth of individual companies and departments.


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