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Creativity in Cognition

In: Philosophy and Psychology

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Creativity can be defined as an idea or solution to a problem or situation which is original and distinctive to other work to which can be compared (Runco, 2004). It affects many varying domains that play a substantial role in society e.g. business, innovation, arts, sciences and education (Simonton, 1997). The concept of creativity was not fully recognised until the practical developments of man aided with the economy and also the standard of living –for example the invention of the steam engine and the telephone (Sternberg and Kaufman, 2010). However, it wasn’t until the late 18th century that ‘imagination’ was accepted independently as the leading factor in creativity (Engell, 1981). Many psychologists believe that the imagination is limited due to both internal and external factors that I shall outline in my essay.

Cognitive processes and knowledge are fundamental factors when attempting to comprehend creativity. It is generally agreed that obtainable knowledge greatly contributes to creativity, and the quality of creative thoughts are affected by a person’s knowledge and the way in which the aspects of this knowledge is processed (Munford and Gustafson, 1988). Some psychologists believe that there is a threshold level that above an IQ of approximately 120, there is a strong association between IQ and creativity, but above that level this hypothesis is not supported (MacKinnon, 1961). A low IQ suggests that a person would struggle with creativity – regarding both the generation of ideas but also the assessment as to whether the ideas are good or not.

Equally, knowledge can be a constraint of creativity and the imagination (Ward, 1994). It is very difficult to conjure up an idea without using prior knowledge of the world around us. The ‘path of least resistance model’ says that, when a person is devising a new idea for a certain domain, they most commonly use specific and straight forward ideals from that domain to begin with, and then use these examples to further their idea (Ward, 1995). For example, when writing a new song, the predicted and most common trend would be to use prior knowledge about types of songs, i.e. rock or pop, and develop a song based on those instances. This is predicted to create the least imaginative of the ideas, in comparison to additional abstract methods to retrieve knowledge. The path of least resistance concentrates on the categorical relationships between the members of that domain (e.g. furniture and a chair). This model also suggests that by basing an idea on sometime very abstract, the outcome will be more imaginative than basing an idea on a commonplace thing. For example, one would expect a more original idea to formulate when basing a new vegetable on a romanesco broccoli rather than a tomato.

Motivation is another key aspect, particularly intrinsic and extrinsic motivation when trying to understand the creative processes. Deci (1971) stated that you are extrinsically motivated when you are working to complete a goal, while, you are intrinsically motivated if you are doing the task out of enjoyment. When you are trying to solve a problem with an intrinsic disposition, you feel a sense of freedom and that you are not actually working but rather playing (Hennessey, 2003). Both types of motivation have been shown to contribute to the creation of an original idea or solution. It also determines what a person is capable of doing and what that person will actually do in that particular circumstance (Amabile, 1990).

Extrinsic motivation is said to place constrictions on the imagination (Deci, 1971). When working for a certain reason, excluding feelings of enjoyment, it can affect the person’s creative performance. A study was done to illustrate this effect known as the ‘Magic Marker’ study. Using pre-schoolers, who already had intrinsic enjoyment when drawing with markers, as their participants, they investigated whether the quality of their drawings and enjoyment would lessen when working for a reward. In comparison with a surprise reward group, and a control group, the reward group spent considerably less time using the markers then the other two groups during playtime. This lack of interest continued for a week after the experimental study ended. It was also found that the standard of the drawing from children in the reward group were substantially lower than those in the surprise reward group and control group (Lepper, Nisbett, and Greene, 1973). This was one of the first studies of its kind, and this caused an increased interest in experiments of reward possibilities and their effect on the imagination. Further studies have shown that there is also a negative effect on imagination when the reward is given before the experimental task commences. In one of three studies constructed by Amabile, Hennessey, and Grossman (1986), it has shown that the impact is the same even if the task itself is described to the participants as a ‘reward’; the experiment itself becomes a hindrance to the imagination.

Working towards a reward is not the only extrinsic limitation on the imagination. Competition is thought to be the biggest of constraints, due to the expectancy that one’s work will be compared and analysed. Competition consists of a number of negative aspects that affect one’s creative motivation, and is therefore said to weaken interest in the given task, as shown by Amabile (1982a).

The use of extrinsic motivation results in the quickest and most straight forward solution possible in order to achieve one’s goal, as one would want to avoid wasting time on undesirable outcomes. For an imaginative idea to be produced it is more productive to concentrate less on the topic, rather than become engrossed in finding a solution (Newell, Shaw, and Simon, 1962). It is suggested that by focusing less on the reward, alternative solutions will develop.
It is interesting that people become less intrinsically interested in a task when there is the prospect of a reward. This has been linked to our learned expectation that goals, time restrictions, and components of competition are generally associated with work that must be completed, and is unenjoyable. Negative reactions to ‘work’ may be learned as we develop the link between it and constraints, unlike ‘play’ whereby positive associations such as freedom are developed (Ransen, 1980).

It is interesting to note that although many of the negative impacts effecting imagination have been focused on experimentally, and have had the same affect in the workplace, this does not suggest that this theory is universal. For certain individuals, some extrinsic motivators did not show to have any effect on the quality of creativity or interest. For example, a study was carried out using commissioned and non-commissioned work done by artists, some artists felt that the extrinsic motivator of commission was a big limit on their creative ability. However, some saw the commission as a chance to be acknowledged in the art world or a way in which to test their ability competitively, and as a result imagination was heightened (Amabile, Philips, and Collins, 1993).

Typically, people are judged on creativity through the work they produce. However, one must consider how concise this method of judgement is; is this judgement based on a person’s most creative works, the least creative or a combination of both. Many discoveries have been made simultaneously, but by different people, and as a result the co-discoverers often don’t get the same credit e.g. Darwin and Wallace on the Theory of Natural Selection (Merton, 1979). Equally, one cannot be judged as to whether or not they are creative specific to one domain as this is an assumption based on limited data. It is known that through deep motivation one can overcome the restrictions of cognitive processes and become more creative (Hennessey, 2003). Creativity is also assessed using the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (Torrance, 1974). This test measures the range, quantity, and appropriateness of responses to open-ended questions. An example question would be to list all the different ways you can use a brick. Torrance’s test also assesses creative figural responses. Participants may be presented with a sheet containing various shapes and lines, and they must construct a drawing using as many of the shapes as they can. The Torrance test also considers how unique or original the completed drawing was in design. One then must consider if the way in which we examine creativity is accurate.

The limits of creativity and imagination also depend on the individual. Personality itself places restraints on a person’s potential to be creative (Feist, 1999). It is undeniable that some people produce more creative outcomes than others, yet only a few are recognised (Eysenck, 1995). However, it is equally possible that everyone has the capability to conjure unique ideas but may not be confident enough to present them to society, or criticise the ideas of others. Cheek and Stahl (1986) stated that when they informed participants they required feedback after their study, subjects who were shy produced less creative work than those who were not shy. It should also be noted that many of the most famous writers and poets have had psychological disorders such as depression, e.g. Sylvia Plath. However, as Kaufman (2001) indicated, very few people would desire a mental illness with the prospect of being creative. There is then a chance that by treating these disorders the levels of creativity in the world are further limited. Gender may also be a contribute to the limits of imagination. Two studies were done whereby children were separated by gender and were told to make collages under both competitive and non-competitive conditions. It was found that the girls performed poorer when competing than boys. Boys performed better creatively when in competitive conditions in both investigations according to results. (Conti, Collins, & Picariello, 2001).

A correlation between age and creativity have also been examined. Simonton (1997) showed that people with different careers are at their most creative at various points depending on their occupation. Poets and physicians are most creative in their mid-twenties, while other people, for example historians, can be at their creative prime during old age. This may suggest that the creative process goes through a developmental stage, in which active careers that require problem solving enable people to reach their most creative early in age, and other fields require more time for development.

Society and culture can restrict ones potential to be imaginative. A unique concept may not be seen as imaginative in one country, but it might in another (Lubart, 1990). Depending on the culture, some aspects of art and science etc. may be focused on more than others. If someone is born into a society where a certain art is not supported, then this person’s opportunity to imagine new ideas in this field is greatly hindered. A person’s childhood can affect their ability to be creative also. If a child is raised in a third world country they have a less likely chance of getting an educationand this will certainly affect their potential to be creative (Sternberg, 1995). Comparatively, if a child is raised in a prosperous environment they may have a lesser opportunity to be imaginative. Because most things are done for them, they may never show any initiative and their capacity for creative thinking may be repressed, or may be directed negatively (Kaufman, Cropley and Cropley, 2008).

Imagination must be given the chance to develop according to Russ (2004). It is possible that cultures that inhibit children’s opportunity to play in school can greatly affect their creative growth. This is seen in areas where academics are emphasized and allowing children to play is limited. In 1990, Singer and Singer carried out a study investigating if there was a correlation between imaginative children and their home environment. They did this by carrying out home visits and observing the interactions between parents and children. Results found that more imaginative children had been raised by out-going and venturesome parents. Their methods of child-rearing was primarily based on reason rather than physical discipline, and allowed for more creative time i.e. reading, or drawing.

Many factors that affect creativity in adults can be studied and observed better in children. Divergent thinking and transformation abilities are the most important cognitive processes in creative processes (Guilford, 1968). Transformation abilities involve using information already known but using it alternatively. These factors are analysed in children and are reasonably impartial of intelligence (Runco, 1991). Most creativity tasks that attempt to enhance creativity in children focus on divergent thinking (Lubart and Guignard, 2004¬).

It is often wondered whether imagination can be enhanced by creative learning. Russ, Moore, and Pearson (2007) explored the effects of play intervention methods on children’s play skills and associations with divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is thoughts that vary in concept and generate different ideas. For example, ‘how many uses can you think of for a paper clip?’ Fifty first and second grade children were randomly appointed to one of three groups; an imagination play group, an affect play group, or a puzzles control group. Participants individually met with a play mentor a total of five times, and a playful task was allocated for each group. It was hypothesised that the children in the play group would be significantly better at playing then those in the other groups. The hypothesis was supported and although the sample size is small, the results suggest that a short play break may improve divergent thinking.

Creative learning is a major limitation with imagination as it tends to be avoided in education. It is a lot easier to teach for rote recall or basic comprehensive skills rather than creative thinking. Teachers in general are not trained in teaching aspects of creativity (Sternberg and Kaufman, 2010).

In conclusion, in this essay I sought to discuss the various limitations that exist on the human imagination. These limitations can develop from what we define as imaginative. Other constraints are internal to the person or external to society. Through advanced research more methods of improving creative thinking may be developed, however what makes a person or product creative is the distinct originality benefitted its by usefulness, so perhaps we are better off that imaginative ideas aren’t an everyday occurance.

Amabile, T. M. (1982a). Children’s artisitc creativity: Detrimental effects of competition on a field setting. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 8, p. 573-578.
Amabile, T. M. (1990). Within you, without you: The social psychology of creativity, and beyond. In M. A. Runco % R. S. Albert (Eds.) Theories of Creativity (p. 61-91). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Amabile, T. M. Hennessey, B. A. & Grossman, B. S. (1986). Social influences on creativity: The effects of contracted reward. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, p. 14-23
Cheek, J. M. & Stahl, S. (1986). Shyness and verbal creativity. Journal of Research in personality, 20, p. 51-61.
Conti, R., Collins, M., & Picariello, M. (2001). The impact of competition on intrinsic motivation and creativity: Considering gender, gender segregation, and gender role orientation. Personality and Individual Differences, 30, p. 1273-1289. Deci, E. L. (1971) Effects of externally medicate rewards on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 18, p. 105-115.
Engell, J. (1981). The Creative Imagination: Enlightenment to romanticism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Eysenck, H. J. (1995). Genius: the natural history of creativity. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Feist, G. J. (1999). The influence of personality on artisitc and scientific creativity. In R.J. Sternberg (Eds), Handbook of human creativity (p. 273-296). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Guilford. J. P. (1968). The nature of human intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hennessey, B. (2000). Self-determination theory and the social psychology of creativity. Psychological Inquiry, p. 293-298.
Hennessey, B. (2003). The social psychology of creativity. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, p. 253-271.
Lepper, M., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. (1973). Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic rewards: A test of the ‘over-justification’ hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 129-137.
Lubart, T.I. (1990). Creativity and cross-cultural variation. International Journal of Psychology, 25(1).
Lubart, T.I., & Guignard, (2004). The general specificty of creativity: a multivariant approach. Creativity: From potential to realization (p.43-56). Wahington DC: American Psychological Association.
MacKinnon, D. W. (1961). Creativity in architects. In D. W. MacKinnon (Ed.), The creative person. Berkeley: Institute of Personality Assessment Research, University of California.
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Mumford, M. D., & Gustafson, S. B. (1988). Creativity Syndrome: Integration, application, and innovation. Psychological Bulletin, 103, p. 27-43.
Newell, A., Shaw, J., & Simon, H. (1962). The processes of creative thinking. In H, Gruber, G. Terrell, & M. Wertheimer (Eds.), Contemporary Approaches to Creative thinking (p. 63-119). New York: Atherton.
Ransen, D. (1980). The mediation of reward-induced motivation decrements in early and middle childhood: A template matching approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, p. 49-55
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Russ, S., Moore, M. E., & Pearson, B. L. (2007) Effects of play intervention on play skill and adaptive functioning: A pilot study. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Simonton, D. K., (1997). Political pathology and societal creativity. In M. A. Runco & R. Richards (Eds.), Eminent creativity, everyday creativity, and health (p. 359-377), Greenwich, CT : Ablex.
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...Psychology P.O. Box 175, Port of Spain Trinidad, W. I ------------------------------------------------- COURSE OUTLINE INSTRUCTOR INFORMATION Instructor: Juanita Wallace, M.A. Office: Behavioural Science Building. Phone: 639-5081 Email: Office Hours: Mondays 12:00-3:15, Wednesdays 12:00-3:00, Thursdays 12:00-4:00 COURSE DESCRIPTION Course Number & Titles: PSYC 101-02 Introduction to Psychology Course Credits: 3 Semester: First, 2014-2015 Class time & Room: 7:20 - 9:45 This is an introductory psychology course that covers many areas including: principles of psychology, development/growth, biological functioning, perception, learning, personality, social cognition, health, stress and coping, human development, cognition, language and social influence. This course will assist in helping you understand the qualifications of the differences among professionals in the field. Psychology’s main purpose is to enhance the quality of life and one’s ability to function at home, work, school and in relationships. PURPOSE OF THIS COURSE This course is designed to assist the student in acquiring a specialized knowledge base, about behaviour, learning new ways of thinking about behaviour and in developing positive attitudes. The knowledge learnt in this course would enable the student to explore the major subfields of psychology through critical, creative and reflective......

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