Learning through social networking media?

068 laptopWith students glued to Facebook rather than paying attention in class, we wonder if they could teach better using a social network instead. Social media may be useful, but the belief that everyone is using sometimes lead to further exclusion.  MySpace (yes, it still exists) Tumblr, Reddit, DeviantArt, Pinterest even LinkedIn are chosen by some students rather than Facebook and Twitter, because they offer different things.

Mimi Ito recently traced what teenagers and young adults did on social networking sites. Most of it was everyday social transactions, sharing entertaining moments, and self publicity. A few used sites to explore and gain new knowledge. She also noted that teenagers feel weird having adults on the social networking sites.[1]

It’s not particularly wise to have students them complete assignments on social networking sites, unless they are set up for education, such as Edmodo. Instead, they need to know how to use the sites, but the only site the should be required to learn is the school’s website, and these are often quite confusing. Students needing resources with different subjects must determine which kind of sites best fit their goals. Classes can even have “show and tell” times when students show interesting sites and describe what they have learned. (Yes, remind them what is school appropriate beforehand.)

Along with social media usage comes instruction in how to avoid pitfalls. In the world of social media success is measured quantitatively, number of hits – with actual impact remaining unknown. A easy and harmful way to do this is my spreading lies and rumors. Give a few examples of students who entered the  court system due to this kind of crime. Also help students to practice the relationship skills of setting expectations and limits, giving encouragement and watching out for others when on-line.

[1] Ito, Mizuko. Hanging Out, Messing Arounc and Geeking out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media, MIT Press.
Posted in Educational trends, Internet technology in learning | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Don’t like criticism? You might feel the same way about creativity.

647px-BitterkaelderSoed_edited-1Alex Osborn, known for founding the Creative Problem-Solving Institute,  set up a structure for group creative brainstorming. One rule to free people from creative inhibitions forbid criticism and judgment during initial brainstorming. [1] No need to guess why. People tend to champion their own ideas at the expense of the better ideas. It only takes a small minority set on “defending turf” to have a detrimental effect.

Ask educators the way to encourage creativity and they will tell you students need an environment full of stimuli that highlights innovation in the arts and sciences. They will also say the classroom should have an open, accepting atmosphere, free from criticism to build up self esteem. Ask people noted for work in creative fields, and they might agree with a stimulating environment, but not the lack of criticism.

When I interviewed college art majors and educations majors to describe factors lead to creativity, both groups placed willingness to take risks was high on their lists. The art majors said being around creative people was the most important factor. The teachers gave high self esteem first place; however, self-esteem wasn’t even mentioned by the art majors. They preferred honest critiques of their work. Evidently methods used to build self-esteem, do not necessarily build creative thinking.

Teachers are have difficulty with highly creative students, for same reason corporate workers find creative colleagues difficult; they tend to level criticism at others more frequently [2]. But evidently they are okay with receiving criticism, too. Both innovative students and employees seem to take the anxiety resulting from a negative evaluation of their work and convert it into a drive to be even more unique. [3]

Research conducted in both the United States and France, examined the result of brainstorming groups when one was told not to criticize while the other was encouraged to debate ideas. Those allowed to debate generally came up with superior ideas. The key was to encourage debate, and even criticism, without allowing anyone to monopolize the session.

“Researchers of group creativity have noted problems such as social loafing, production blocking, and especially, evaluation apprehension. Thus, brainstorming techniques have specifically admonished people ‘not to criticize’ their own and others’ ideas, a tenet that has gone unexamined. In contrast, there is research showing that dissent, debate and competing views have positive value, stimulating divergent and creative thought.” [4]

 Illustration Ravnen 1890, Public Domain
[1] Osborn, Alex. F. (1953) Applied imagination: Principles and procedures of creative thinking
[2] Torrance, E. Paul. ‎(1963) The Creative Personality And The Ideal Pupil. Teachers College Record, 65, 220-226
[3] Johns Hopkins University news release, August 21, 2012, Don’t Get Mad, Get Creative: Social Rejection Can Fuel Imagination, JHU Carey Researcher Finds
[4] Nemeth, Charlan J. Personnaz, Bernard. Personnaz, Marie. Goncalo, Jack A. (2004) The liberating role of conflict in group creativity: A study in two countries. European Journal of Social Psychology,Volume 34, Issue 4, pages 365–374,
Posted in Creativity | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The curse of creativity

di1_edited-2It just isn’t fair. One person gets to be born with an enviable imagination, the ability to come up with new, innovative ideas, or create artistic masterpieces and the next person does not. Many cringe at the idea that creativity could be an innate and inheritable trait …. including those that have this trait. Creative people often feel driven to be different, to strive for the original idea and take it as far as possible despite the deprivation and pain that results. They fear that inspiration may abandon them and leave them stranded, or the world may decide that the masterpiece into which they have pour blood, sweat and tears is useless and ugly. They may not see their ability as being  a fortunate circumstance. In fact, most of the evidence for innate creativity is based on the negatives associated with this trait.

First on the list of negatives is the similarity of creative thinking to schizophrenic thinking. Researchers find increasing evidence for the genetic basis for schizophrenia. As they search through the relatives and family trees of schizophrenics, there appear a larger than average number of people in creative fields. In the same manner, examining the families of famous creative people reveal more members exhibiting types of psychopathology than found in an average population.  Abnormal thinking exhibited by people diagnosed with Schizophrenic spectrum disorders include the following:

  • Delusional thinking, which is similar to using divergent associations
  • Over-inclusive thinking, or paying attention to seemingly irrelevant details
  • Uncontrolled flexibility, evidenced by jumping from idea to idea [1]

Do those sound a lot like creative traits? The difference is that the creative person has a stronger ability to make judgments to determine when this kind of behavior will be acceptable, a characteristic controlled by the pre-frontal cortex. [2]

The second evidence is associated with a problem that many creative people bemoan, the unpredictability of inspiration. For those most known for creative output, the peak tends to come at the beginning of their career. The creativity tends to fluctuate going up and down during the career, but usually not reaching the earlier height. If creativity were learned behavior should improve, but the ability to come up with creative products seems to “a chaotic sequence of hits and misses.” [3]

Finally, no one seems to be able to explain why some people keep after their pursuit of creativity when it is heavily discouraged. Reams of articles come out on how to encouraging creativity in education and the workplace, but it appears some manage to keep a unique perspective without encouragement. Recently with an increase desire for creative products, the disparity of desire for products and disapproval of creative ideas has come to the forefront.[4] Why would a creative person continue coming up with the kind of ideas that caused social rejection if it was solely something they learned to do? Apparently social rejection increases imaginative thinking; at least  in those that are already nonconforming types. According to a study from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School:

“Rejection confirms for independent people what they already feel about themselves, that they’re not like others. For such people, that distinction is a positive one leading them to greater creativity.”[5]

[1] Kuszewski, A. (2009) The Genetics of Creativity: A Serendipitous Assemblage of Madness, http://www.grupometodo.org
[2] Jung-Beeman, M., Bowden, E., Haberman, J., Frymiare, J., Arambel-Liu, S., Greenblatt, R., Reber, P., Kounios, J. (2004). Neural activity when people solve problems with insight. PLoS Biol 2(4): e97
[3] Feist, G.J. (1998) A meta-analysis of personality in scientific and artistic creativity, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2, 290-309
[4] Olien,J (2013) Inside the Box, People Don’t Actually Like Creativity.
[5] Johns Hopkins University news release, August 21, 2012, Don’t Get Mad, Get Creative: Social Rejection Can Fuel Imagination, JHU Carey Researcher Finds


Posted in Creativity | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How is creativity killed?

019 characterIf teaching students to be creative is one of the highest goals of education, we have a problem.  The United States as a nation is becoming less, not  more creative according to the assessments.  That’s right, the scores on are getting lower.  Initially after Torrance Test of Creative Thinking gain wide spread usage in schools test scores rose in similar manner to the Flynn effect on IQ test. ( IQ test have to be standardized repeatedly or else the general population scores slowly increase. ) The scores for creativity increase in a fairly linear manner until the 1990′s. Then, they started to decline, with the biggest decrease in elaboration, the ability to expand and add details to a creative concept.[1]

What exactly is the reason for this decrease?  Increasing electronic communication has been blamed. According to Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University , the constant checking of phone texts and social media provides a connection lost because of declining face to face interaction. Finding a responses to a status changes provides  a dopamine boost that reduces anxiety. However the constant multitasking required to stay connected decreased creativity, too. He finds the fact that the scores on  Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking fell sharply in 1998 for younger students no coincidence. [2]

Even early in his work  E.P. Torrance (1963) found other reasons that creativity might be discouraged.  people who come up with original ideas are characteristically absorbed in their work, and do not take the time or effort to be polite. They often refuse to take no for an answer, and level criticism at others.  Creative children have a lot of the same traits, which can be viewed as “obnoxious” by teachers. Torrance warned educators  that they needed to deal with these negative aspects of students’ personalities without discouraging  creativity.[3] However, that might not be possible. Part of the decline may be the due to the students attempts to get along with others.

Later, Myers and Torrance (1980) claimed that teachers said they were rewarding creativity when they were actively punishing it.[4] Westby and Dawson (1995) proposed that creativity is being killed, unintentionally, by educators who do not actually recognize it. When they tested college students to find out which characteristics they thought correlated with creativity and non-creativity, their answers matched past psychologists’ findings about 95% of the time. However, when a group of teachers in grade school were asked about the same traits, the correlation was about 50%. They thought students who were uncreative if they were:

  •   emotional
  •   impulsive
  •   non-conformists
  •   making up rules as they went along
  •   trying to do the impossible
  •   not fond of working with others when making new things

Even though, all the above traits are those that correlate with higher levels of creative thinking, most teachers did not see this. They claimed they liked creative students. However, they warped the definition to match students that were easier to control in class. [5]

I recall sitting in an advance education class a few years ago. One of the teachers had brought a collection of poems her students had written that she wanted to make into a book.  We were trying to suggest more original ways to illustrate the poems than by using unimaginative clip art. Her favorite was a set of stanzas with perfect spelling and rigid rhymes; the words fell pretty much as expected. The professor pointed out a different quite compelling piece in which the young poet describe her own struggles and inability to meet expectations. However, her teacher did see it was a vastly more creative work because she did not particularly like the student.


Art by S.L. Listman

[1] Bronson, Po, and Merryman, Ashley (2010) The Creativity Crisis, Newsweek.
[2] Joel Stein, Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation
[3] Myers, R.E. and Torrance, E.P. (1961) Can teachers encourage creative thinking? Educational Leadership 19, 156-159
[4] Torrance, E.Paul ‎(1963) The Creative Personality And The Ideal Pupil. Teachers College Record, 65, 220-226
[5] Westby, Erik.L. and Dawson,V.L. (1995) Creativity: Asset or Burden in the Classroom? Creativity Research Journal.  Vol 8, No 1, 1-10
Posted in Creativity | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are children more creative?

ImageIf you listened to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about “How Schools Kill Creativity” [1], you would assume all children enter school tremendously talented and creative and exit at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is an entertaining talk, including naive quips from children that could easily fit into Art Linkletter’s  (and later Bill Cosby’s) program Kids Say the Darndest Things. Robinson makes the assumption that the unusual things children say is evidence of creativity, but this is never supported during the talk. Sometimes children’s “unique” sayings are a result of misunderstanding language. At other times they are concrete interpretation  of imaginative things they have been told.

Also why is there a noticeable percentage of students that not only remain creative but increase in creative production while in school? They are in the same schools that turn out the uncreative students that Robinson feels are being prepared for work based on the industrial revolution. (Actually subjects currently taught in school reflect those taught to the nobility through the centuries. But then only the wealthy were “educated” and most everyone else learned a trade.)

But back to the question of whether or not children are actually more creative than adults. When student in elementary schools take the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, the older they are the higher their scores tend to be.  That’s what a study from the University of Catania in Italy uncover testing a sample of 112 Italian school children. One of the areas in which the older children scored significantly higher was elaboration. [2] Longitudinal studies of children’s creative development in the United States, using the Test of Creative Thinking and the Test of Creative Feeling show a slump in creative cognition between fourth and sixth grade followed by an increase in creativity ability marked by cognitive elaboration between grades six and nine.[3] The Test of Creative Thinking require that something be produced and refined based on original ideas. This is different from the assumption that talk connecting unusual ideas defines creativity.

Edward de Bono,  author of six hat thinking system, theorizes that childlike or natural creativity is based on suspending judgment of prior knowledge. Of course children do not have nearly as much prior knowledge as adults. This kind of creativity “does not depend as much on preconceived rules, seeing things as they appear and not as we know them.” [4] However he finds it is not very powerful either, because the creativity that changes society is an unnatural process. It cuts across the patterns that have been formed by organizing ideas into systems. A person must intentionally change their perception in order to do this.

When interviewing students who had continued studies in creative areas in higher education, I heard a idea on childhood creativity expressed more than once. Basically many students felt that their ideas were “more wild and far out” as a children. However, they did not know how to produce their ideas. As they got older their creativity became more practical and more useful. Perseverance was the characteristic that they saw dividing the more creative students from the less, not lack of indoctrination from education.

[1] Robinson, K. (2006) How schools kill creativity, TED2006, Filmed Feb 2006
[2]De Caroli, M.E. and Sagone E. (2009), Creative Thinking and Big Five Factors of Personality Measured in Italian School Children, Psychological Reports: Volume 105, Issue , pp. 791-803.
[3] Claxton, A. F., Pannells, T. C., & Rhoads, P. A. (2005) Developmental trends in the creativity of school-age children. Creativity Research Journal, 17, 327-335.
[4] de Bono, E. Serious creativity, The Journal for Quality and Participation; Sep 1995; 18, 5; ABI/INFORM Global, pg. 12 (accessed Feb 17, 2014)
Posted in Creativity, Educational trends | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Can creativity be taught?

???????????????????Anyone who has worked with a program to encourage creativity in students has found that deliberate efforts to kick start creativity often fail to get results. It seems that this skill is terribly unpredictable and won’t follow our schedules. Many actually question whether or not these efforts are doomed.  It is very possible that this complex skill, which that blends recognizing far flung connections and persistently trying every avenue to produce those ideas as innovative solution or product, is not an ability that can be taught. According to author and editor Irving Taylor of Lakehead University, creativity already exists within many people but requires development.  “At some point, however, some conscious discipline and control is beneficial and necessary. It is difficult to know whether developing creativity is like building a muscle or following a recipe.”[1]

In 1964, J. H. McPherson described four different kinds of instruction aimed at improving creativity. The first was teaching people to realize a problem actually existed.[2]  How many times do we go through a number of steps to complete a task and simply assume that is the way it has to be done. A creative person usually cannot do an inefficient or repetitive task without thinking Can’t there be an easier way to do this?  While another creative person has a hard time watching mediocrity and asks Isn’t there a way to produce something better? How easy is it to teach people to look for possible problems?  Harder than you think; problem finding is one of the most challenging parts of creativity because it challenges the status quo.

The second kind of training required the development of cognitive problem solving techniques.[2] However, the question remains if problem solving techniques learned in a simulated environment can transfer to the real world. Performance in controlled, clinically-based tests of cognitive problem solving does not necessarily match that in the outside world.  It does appears that expertise in an area leads to greater cognitive problem solving ability. However those people who go on to exhibit “creative genius” gain expertise in a domain faster than others. D.K. Simonton found that the most well-known and productive classical composers actually trained for less years than their less creative counterparts before making noteworthy contributions.[3]

J. H. McPherson  recommended instruction in factors which help or hinder in creativity as the third type of training.[2] In a series of interviews with college students in creative fields, I asked them to identify both types of factors. Near the top of those that help were “risk taking” (and the very similar “experimenting”), along with “being imaginative.” However, they viewed having creative friends and acquaintances as providing the most help.  The creative field majors saw lack of time and resources, followed by their own lack of expertise as the biggest inhibitors to creativity. In order to cultivate creativity in students it seems necessary to provide the appropriate environment: lots of other creative people, no fear of experimentation and plenty of time and resources.

The fourth area of instruction according to McPherson  is to assist individuals in accepting and supporting their own creative ideas.[2]  However, much creative work is produced because the individual feels the need to do it – creativity for its own sake rather than to solve the problems of surrounding society. Lack of acceptance and support from others, not the individual themselves, seems to be the bigger drawback.

As I examine the kind of instruction recommended to teach creativity, I find that creativity is nurtured, encouraged or cultivated rather than actually taught.  It seems that creativity cannot be learned, but it can be stunted or even killed.

[1] Irving A. Taylor, A Retrospective View of Creativity Investigation, in edited by Perspectives in Creativity, eds, Irving A. Taylor, Jacob W. Getzels (1975)Transaction Publishers
[2] McPherson, J.H. (1964)Environment and training for creativity
[3] Simonton, D. K. (1991). Emergence and realization of genius: The lives and works of 120 classical composers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 829–840
Posted in Creativity | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The orgin of originality

July Fourth 070 cStart any discussions on the origin of creativity and you will quickly find the group divided. On one side are people claiming it is an innate trait: you are either born with it or without it. Keep on pressing this faction and most will admit it is not exactly black or white proposition, rather people are apparently born with varying amounts of creativity. They cite anecdotal examples of young children demonstrating precocious creative ability that grow up to be a great artist, composer, or inventor  – such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

On the other hand there are people who see creativity as an skill that can be taught. Now while many of these people are attempting to advance their own curriculum for developing it, not all are. However this faction tend to insist that creative thinking be an integral part of education. They commonly view the ability to come up with original, useful ideas as our best chance at solving humankind’s problems. They refer to examples of children who grow up in artistic and creative environment that go on to produce great original works – for example Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

In order to test either proposition one must first define creativity and develop a way to measure it. This investigation is already sunk because a single definition of creativity is impossible to obtain. What is original and unique in one culture, may be commonplace in another.  What solves a problems or accomplishes a goal in one society, may be nonsensical to another.  It is not the just the acts or products, but how these compare to others in the same society that is the hallmark of creativity. So psychologists have come up with their own definitions, their own research and their own tests. Actually the definitions may only vaguely relate to the research, and the tests are typically borrowed or build on other’s work.

J.P. Guilford, head of psychological research for U.S. Army,  was one of first to build and elaborate battery assessments for creativity. He first formulated a model called structure of intellect, a three dimensional model showing the relationship of mental processes,  products, and content in intellectual ability. His creativity assessments were largely a measurement of divergent thinking – generating a variety of ideas or possible solutions for a task.  Many tasks used to test creativity were based on work by Thurstone.  [1]

The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT) developed by E. Paul Torrance, were based on J.P. Guilford’s work on tests of divergent thinking. They were originally scored on four scales:

  • Flexibility – the number of different categories of ideas
  • Fluency – the total number of meaningful different ideas that were generated
  • Originality – how different the ideas were from those of peers
  • Elaboration – how well the details of these ideas were developed

In 1984 Torrance removed the score for Flexibility in the figural (drawing) test and added a “Resistance to Premature Closure” score. Even those coming up with definitions for creativity keep changing their own. The major benefits of this test: can be taken by elementary school students; provides a comparative score for originality. Along with this test Torrance performed long term studies to find out what happened to the creatively gifted students who first took it in 1958.

It became apparent that high levels of creativity as a child were not the only thing that matter. Those students who continued to have high levels of creative achievement, developed an image of their future career earlier in childhood than their peers. In other words they were working towards a specific goal longer. They also had mentors to assist them in reaching creative goals. [3] Of course this still does not answer the question of whether the creativity was innate or not, but it does show that being creative as a child is not enough.

[1] Irving A. Taylor, A Retrospective View of Creativity Investigation, in edited by Perspectives in Creativity, eds, Irving A. Taylor, Jacob W. Getzels (1975)Transaction Publishers
[2] Torrance, E. (1999). Torrance test of creative thinking:  Norms and technical manual.  Beaconville, IL: Scholastic Testing Services.
[3] Torrance, E. Paul (1980) Growing Up Creatively Gifted: A 22-Year Longitudinal Study. Creative Child and Adult Quarterly, v5 n3 p148-58,170 Fall 1980
Posted in Creativity | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time and creativity – friend or foe?

burbn timeWhen working with Odyssey of the Mind teams practicing for their spontaneous problem competitions, I discovered an interesting aspect of creativity.  Students had to come up with a large of number of  creative ideas to solve a problem on the spot. However, not all students in a large group could participate in this competition, so we set up a way of scoring ideas as a fair way to choose the competitors. Each student was given the same problem scenario. Within a set time, they listed as many possible solutions as they could. I thought that coming up with original ideas would require more time. Therefore, students were judged on two scores: the number of ideas and the originality of ideas. It turn out there was a positive correlation between number of ideas and originality of ideas, so there was no need for two scores. Those students that still clung to the tried and true practical ideas came up with noticeably fewer solutions. But without both originality and usefulness creativity is …. useless.  And this is where the time pressure wields the greatest effect.

According to Teresa Amabile, creativity researcher and professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, there is a continued debate on how the pressures of deadlines affect creativity. “Some people are convinced that time pressure stimulates creative thinking, and others are certain it stifles creative thinking.”[1] Amabile has recently completed a long term study  in the corporate world and has noted some of her own surprising findings on creativity.

Data in this long term study was collected through a self reported daily electronic diary and used to collect information on employees across 3 industries. The point was to observe creative work in real time as teams collaborated on creative projects lasting anywhere from 5 weeks to 9 months. The collected data suggest that “overall, very high levels of time pressure should be avoided if you want to foster creativity on a consistent basis.” People can continue to work creatively during a time crunch, but not for extended periods. This of course, is not a particularly new finding. However, there appeared to be a contradiction in perception among the participants when it came to determining whether or not time pressure increased creative thinking. Amabile stated that “participants were giving evidence of less creative thinking on time-pressured days, [but] they reported feeling more creative on those days.”[1]

So there seems to be a disconnect between feeling creative and showing evidence of creativity when in a time crunch. Perhaps this is because creativity  occurs as a thought process first, ideas are stimulated by increased pressures, but once the idea has been conceived the refinement and elaboration needed to make into a useful solution require time. When the pressure is on, adrenaline flows. Creative ideas seem to pop up left and right. But turning those ideas into something useful, working through all the dead ends to find the end of the maze takes extended periods of time. So when it comes to producing creative work, time appears to be both a friend and a foe.

[1] Silverthorne, Sean (2002) Time Pressure and Creativity: Why Time is Not on Your Side, Working Knowledge, Harvard Business School (Accessed 24 Feb 2014)
Posted in Creativity | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Is creativity a right-brain function?

055 monitor_child copyThe idea of left brain and right brain thinking originated with the work of a number of physicians in the 1800s. Pierre Paul Broca, a French physician studied patients suffering from aphasia, inability to speak due to brain injuries. He pinpointed Broca’s area, a region on the front left side of the brain that functioned in the production speech. A few years later, Carl Wernicke uncovered another area on the back left side also responsible for language processing. Damage to Wernicke’s area would result in inability to comprehend language. Then, an area on the underside of the brain was found essential for recognizing people’s faces, and the scramble was on for mapping brain functions .[1] Enter pop psychology. Soon the task each hemisphere was suppose to perform were drawn down the lines of imagination versus logic. According to Carl Zimmer ” People were tagged as “right brains” if they could draw and “left brains” if they were analytical.”[2]

Roger W. Sperry, awarded the 1981 Nobel Prize for split brain research, discovered that the left and right hemisphere of the brain learned and remembered different events.  When the corpus callosum was cut in epileptic patients, disconnecting the two hemispheres of the brain, the cognitive abilities of these patients changed slightly. They were unable to name objects when viewed with only right eye leading him to propose that language was processed on left side of brain.  However, it turned out that some functions of language, such as intonation, are dependent of the right side of the brain.[3]

Apparently ability to use both sides of brain, with their intricate interdependence, together for a single task is a hall mark of “gifted” ability in math.  For average people the left hemisphere of the brain is better at processing visual “parts,” and the right hemisphere is better at analyzing visual “wholes.” But joint research by psychologists at the U.S. Army and the University of Melbourne found that mathematically gifted teens did better than average teens on tests that required the two hemispheres of the brain to cooperate. Could the same be true for creativity? According to Michael O’Boyle, PhD, of Melbourne University, “Various expressions of exceptionality, such as giftedness in math, music or art, may be the by-product of a brain that has functionally organized itself in a qualitatively different way than the usual left/right hemispheric asymmetry.”[4] His findings definitely points to the advantage of being able to perform functions that are typically dominated by one side or the other using both sides of the brain.

O’Bolye’s research is not the only one that shows the right brain, left brain dichotomy between reason/logic and emotion/creativity is largely overblown. Dr. Jeff Anderson, director of the fMRI Neurosurgical Mapping Service at the University of Utah, says the preference to use one specific brain region more than other for particular functions can be documented using MRI brain scans. When his team examined brain scans of participants ages 7 to 29 they saw pockets of heavy neural traffic in certain key regions. However on average, both sides of the brain had similar amounts of neural networks and connectivity.  The people examined where not predominantly right brained or left brained. What makes pinpointing the area in which creativity originates so difficult is the fact that creativity is not a single function. Dr. Anderson recently reported that “It is not the case that the left hemisphere is associated with logic or reasoning more than the right… Also creativity is no more processed in the right hemisphere than the left.”[5]

So if someone asks you to concentrate on “right brain” thinking, remember, a whole is better than a half, especially when it comes to creativity.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Paul_Broca (accessed Feb 17, 2014)
[2] Zimmer, Carl (2009) The Big Similarities & Quirky Differences Between Our Left and Right Brains. Discover Magazine (accessed Feb 17, 2014)
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Wolcott_Sperry (accessed Feb 17, 2014)
[4] Singh, Harnam, and  O’Boyle, Michael W., Interhemispheric interaction during global-local processing in mathematically gifted adolescents, average-ability youth, and college students” Neuropsychology, Vol. 18, No. 2.
[5] Wanjek, Christopher. Left Brain vs. Right: It’s a Myth, Research Finds (accessed Feb 17, 2014)
Posted in Creativity | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Optimist or pessimist

Eggs_Expressions_Happy_Sad1Modern psychologist have noted that the average human has an optimism bias. Typically normal people live with the illusion that most situations will turn out better than they actually do. Unrealistic positivism seems to be the norm. On the other hand clinically diagnosed depression often results in a darker than actual view of the future; severely depressed people expect more problems than really do occur. It is the mildly to moderately depressed people that tend to have the most realistic view of the future [1].

Pessimism may be beneficial for prognosticating, but how does it affect creativity? In the world of the ancient Greeks, the character of authors, artists, and composers was often connected with melancholy, a sense of pervasive sadness. Philosophical pessimism seems rampant among more modern creatives in many countries. Just look at the life and work of Miguel de Cervantes, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Joseph Conrad, Richard Wagner, Edward Munch,  Thomas Mann,  Jorge Luis Borges and Albert Camus. However, philosophical pessimism is a view of the human predicament. Negative outcomes for humankind are seen as the result of a hostile universe. This philosophy counters the view that humans are improving. People who are pessimistic about their own lives, or dispositional pessimists, think that prospects look bad personally.

In current research, the relationship of optimism and pessimism to creativity depends how the creative population is selected. One way is to test a portion of the general population with  a personality inventories based on input of people considered creative by their peers.  A recent study used the second method in the form of the Khatena-Torrance Creative Perception Inventory (Khatena & Torrance, 1976) and the   Attributional Style Questionnaire (Seligman, 1990) to determine if people with creative personalities in college showed more more trust in good outcomes or bad outcomes for the future.

The student’s perceived creativity according to the inventory results appeared to be positively related to some characteristics of a creative personality such as artistic production, openness to ideas and self-confidence. On the other hand pessimism correlated with lower scores in inquisitiveness. But overall there were not a significant relationship between the creative personality and either optimism or pessimism.[2] Another similar type of study on college students show that both positive and negative emotions contributed to the creative personality, with pessimism sometimes enhancing apparent creativity.[3]

It looks like the dispositional optimism or pessimism is similar to other psychometric characteristics such as extroversion/introversion and preference for thinking or feeling. Placement on the optimism/pessimism continuum seems to have no correlation to creativity.

Photo from  http://pdpics.com/

[1] Taylor, S. E. & Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 193—210.
[2] Reffel, J. A. (2010, July). Optimism, Pessimism and Creativity. Paper presented at the 11th Asia Pacific Conference on Giftedness, Sydney, Australia.
[3] Charyton, Christine; Hutchison, Shannon; Snow, Lindsay; Rahman, Mohammed A.; Elliott, John O.Creativity as an Attribute of Positive Psychology: The Impact of Positive and Negative Affect on the Creative Personality, Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, v4 n1 p57-66 2009
Posted in Creativity | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment