The ability to juxtapose ideas in a new and unusual way to find solutions to problems, create new inventions, or produce works of art.

Any human endeavor can involve creativity; it is not limited to just the arts. Numerous theories of creativity were proposed by twentieth-century psychologists, educators and other social scientists. Howard Gruber (1922–2005), who worked to understand creativity by studying the lives of famous innovators, found broad common characteristics: (1) they engaged in a variety of activities within their chosen fields; (2) they held a strong sense of purpose about their work; (3) they had a profound emotional attachment to their work; and (4) they tended to conceptualize problems in terms of all encompassing images.

A 1926 study by Graham Wallas (1858–1932) of well known scientists and other innovators yielded a widely used four-stage breakdown of the creative process. The preparation stage consists of formulating a problem, studying previous work on it, and thinking intensely about it. In the incubation stage, there is no visible progress on the problem; it may be periodically” mulled over,“but it is largely left dormant, allowing subconscious ideas about it to emerge. At the illumination stage, an important insight about the problem is reached, often in a sudden, intuitive fashion. In the final, or verification, stage, the idea is tested and evaluated.

Creativity differs from the kinds of abilities measured by standard intelligence (IQ) tests. Creative people tend to have average or above-average scores on IQ tests. Beyond an IQ of 120, however, there is little correlation between intelligence and creativity. J.P. Guilford (1897–1987) first distinguished the thought processes of creative people from those of other people in terms of convergent and divergent thinking. Convergent thinking—the type required for traditional IQ tests— involves the application of logic and knowledge to narrow the number of possible solutions to a problem until one's thoughts “converge” on the most appropriate choice. In contrast, divergent thinking—the kind most closely associated with creativity and originality— involves the ability to envision multiple ways to solve a problem. Guilford identified three aspects of divergent thinking: fluency entails the ability to come up with many different solutions to a problem in a short amount of time; flexibility is the capacity to consider many alternatives at the same time; and originality refers to the difference between a person's ideas and those of most other people. In the 1990s, convergent thinking came to be thought of as “hard” or left-brain thinking, while divergent thinking was labeled “soft” or right-brain thinking.

Special tests, such as the Consequences Test, have been designed to assess creativity. Instead of based on one correct answer for each question, as in conventional intelligence tests, the scoring on these tests is based on the number of different plausible responses generated for each question, or the extent to which a person's answers differ from those of most other test takers. Typical questions asked on such tests include “Imagine all of the things that might possibly happen if all national and local laws were suddenly abolished” or “Name as many uses as you can think of for a paper clip.” While divergent thinking is important to the creative process, it is not the sole element necessary for creative achievement. Researchers have found little correlation between the scores of fifth and tenth graders on divergent thinking tests and their actual achievements in high school in such fields as art, drama, and science.

In a 1986 study, a group of researchers identified three essential criteria for creative achievement: expertise in a specific field, which must be learned; creative skills, including divergent thinking; and the motivation to engage in creative activity for its own sake regardless of external reward. In this study, items created by people who were told that their work would be judged and possibly rewarded for creativity were found to be less creative than the results produced by those who were simply asked to work on a project with no prospect of external reward.

Creativity does not appear to be inherited. Studies with identical twins raised separately show that environmental influences play at least as great a role in the development of creativity as intelligence. Creative skills of identical twins reared apart vary more than their intellectual abilities. Studies have shown that reinforcing novel ideas in both children and adults leads to increased creativity. The originality of block arrangements produced by four-year-olds increased dramatically when novel designs were praised by adults. When this positive reinforcement was stopped, the children reverted to producing unimaginative patterns. Other studies have used similar techniques to boost creativity scores of fifth graders, improve the originality of stories written by sixth graders, and increased the ability of college students to produce novel word associations. One interesting finding in studies such as these is that positively reinforcing one kind of creative activity encourages original thinking in other areas as well. The play of children is closely related to the development of creativity. The sensory stimulation that results from exposure to new objects and activities reinforces the exploratory impulse in both children and adults and results in an openness to new experiences and ideas that fosters creative thinking.

Schools as well as families can encourage creativity by offering children activities that give them an active role in their learning, allow them freedom to explore within a loosely structured framework and participation in creative activities for enjoyment rather than an external reward.

See also Creativity tests ; Intelligence quotient (IQ) .



Catmull, Edwin. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2014.

Christensen, Tanner. The Creativity Challenge: Design, Experiment, Test, Innovate, Build, Create, Inspire, and Unleash Your Genius. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2015.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Collins, 1996; reprint e-book 2009.


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Davies, Anna. “6 Myths About Creativity.” Huffington Post Healthy Living (accessed August 14, 2015).

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