Everyone has creativity, some a lot more than others. The development of humans, and possibly the universe, depends on it. Yet creativity is an elusive creature. What do we mean by it? What is going on in our brains when ideas form? Does it feel the same for artists and scientists? We asked writers and neuroscientists, pop stars and AI gurus to try to deconstruct the creative process-and learn how we can all ignite the spark within.
A In the early 1970s, creativity was still seen as a type of intelligence. But when more subtle tests of IQ and creative skills were developed in the 1970s, particularly by the father of creativity testing, Paul Torrance, it became clear that the link was not so simple. Creative people are intelligent, in terms of IQ tests at least, but only averagely or just above. While it depends on the discipline, in general beyond a certain level IQ does not help boost creativity; it is necessary but not sufficient to make someone creative.
B Because of the difficulty of studying the actual process, most early attempts to study creativity concentrated on personality. According to creativity specialist Mark Runco of California State University, Fullerton, the “creative personality” tends to place a high value on aesthetic qualities and to have broad interests, providing lots of resources to draw on and knowledge to recombine into novel solutions. “Creatives” have an attraction to complexity and an ability to handle conflict. They are also usually highly self-motivated, perhaps even a little obsessive. Less creative people, on the other hand, tend to become irritated if they cannot immediately fit all the pieces together. They are less tolerant of confusion. Creativity comes to those who wait, but only to those who are happy to do so in a bit of a fog.
C But there may be a price to pay for having a creative personality. For centuries, a link has been made between creativity and mental illness. Psychiatrist Jamison of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, found that established artists are significantly more likely to have mood disorders. But she also suggests that a change of mood state might be the key to triggering a creative event, rather than the negative mood itself. Intelligence can help channel this thought style into great creativity, but when combined with emotional problems, lateral, divergent or open thinking can lead to mental illness instead.
D Jordan Peterson, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, Canada, believes he has identified a mechanism that could help explain this. He says that the brains of creative people seem more open to incoming stimuli than less creative types. Our senses are continuously feeding a mass of information into our brains, which have to block or ignore most of it to save us from being snowed under. Peterson calls this process latent inhibition, and argues that people who have less of it, and who have a reasonably high IQ with a good working memory can juggle more of the data, and so may be open to more possibilities and ideas. The downside of extremely low latent inhibition may be a confused thought style that predisposes people to mental illness. So for Peterson, mental illness is not a prerequisite for creativity, but it shares some cognitive traits.
E But what of the creative act itself? One of the first studies of the creative brain at work was by Colin Martindale, a psychologist from the University of Maine in Orono. Back in 1978, he used a network of scalp electrodes to record an electroencephalogram, a record of the pattern of brain waves, as people made up stories. Creativity has two stages: inspiration and elaboration, each characterised by very different states of mind. While people were dreaming up their stories, he found their brains were surprisingly quiet. The dominant activity was alpha waves, indicating a very low level of cortical arousal: a relaxed state, as though the conscious mind was quiet while the brain was making connections behind the scenes. It’s the same sort of brain activity as in some stages of sleep, dreaming or rest, which could explain why sleep and relaxation can help people be creative. However, when these quiet minded people were asked to work on their stories, the alpha wave activity dropped off and the brain became busier, revealing increased cortical arousal, more corralling of activity and more organised thinking. Strikingly, it was the people who showed the biggest difference in brain activity between the inspiration and development stages who produced the most creative storylines. Nothing in their background brain activity marked them as creative or uncreative. “It’s as if the less creative person can’t shift gear,” says Guy Claxton, a psychologist at the University of Bristol, UK. “Creativity requires different kinds of thinking. Very creative people move between these states intuitively.” Creativity, it seems, is about mental flexibility: perhaps not a two-step process, but a toggling between two states. In a later study, Martindale found that communication between the sides of the brain is also important.
F Paul Howard-Jones, who works with Claxton at Bristol, believes he has found another aspect of creativity. He asked people to make up a story based on three words and scanned their brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging. In one trial, people were asked not to try too hard and just report the most obvious story suggested by the words. In another, they were asked to be inventive. He also varied the words so it was easier or harder to link them. As people tried harder and came up with more creative tales, there was a lot more activity in a particular prefrontal brain region on the right-hand side. These regions are probably important in monitoring for conflict, helping us to filter out many of of combining the words and allowing us to pull out just the desirable connections, Howard-Jones suggests. It shows that there is another side to creativity, he says. The story-making task, particularly when we are stretched, produces many options which we have to assess. So part of creativity is a conscious process of evaluating and analysing ideas. The test also shows that the more we try and are stretched, the more creative our minds can be.
G And creativity need not always be a solitary, tortured affair, according to Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School. Though there is a slight association between solitary writing or painting and negative moods or emotional disturbances, scientific creativity and workplace creativity seem much more likely to occur when people are positive and buoyant .In a decade-long study of real businesses, to be published soon, Amabile found that positive moods relate positively to creativity in organisations, and that the relationship is a simple linear one. Creative thought also improves people’s moods, her team found, so the process is circular. Time pressures, financial pressures and hard-earned bonus schemes on the other hand, do not boost workplace creativity: internal motivation, not coercion, produces the best work.
H Another often forgotten aspect of creativity is social. Vera John-Steiner of the University of New Mexico says that to be really creative you need strong social networks and trusting relationships, not just active neural networks. One vital characteristic of a highly creative person, she says, is that they have at least one other person in their life who doesn’t think they are completely nuts.
Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage? In boxes 14-17 on your answer sheet, write
TRUE if the statement agrees with the information
FALSE if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN If there is no information on this
14. High IQ guarantees better creative ability in one person than that who achieves an average score in an IQ test.
15. In a competitive society, individuals’ language proficiency is more important than other abilities.
16. A wider range of resources and knowledge can be integrated by more creative people into bringing about creative approaches.
17. A creative person not necessarily suffers more mental illness.
Use the information in the passage to match the people (listed A-F) with opinions or deeds below.
Write the appropriate letters A-F in boxes 18-22 on your answer sheet.
B Jordan Peterson
C Guy Claxton
E Teresa Amabile
F Vera John-Steiner
18. Instead of producing the negative mood, a shift of mood state might be the one important factor of inducing a creative thinking.
19. Where the more positive moods individuals achieve, there is higher creativity in organizations.
20. Good interpersonal relationship and trust contribute to a person with more creativity.
21. Creativity demands an ability that can easily change among different kinds of thinking.
22. Certain creative mind can be upgraded if we are put into more practice in assessing and processing ideas.
Complete the summary paragraph described below. In boxes 23-26 on your answer sheet, write the correct answer with NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS.
But what of the creative act itself? In 1978, Colin Martindale made records of pattern of brain waves as people made up stories by applying a system constituted of many (23)…………………….The two phrases of creativity, such as (24)………………………….were found. While people were still planning their stories, their brains shows little active sign and the mental activity was showed a very relaxed state as the same sort of brain activity as in sleep, dreaming or rest. However, experiment proved the signal of (25)………………………..went down and the brain became busier, revealing increased cortical arousal, when these people who were in a laidback state were required to produce their stories. Strikingly, it was found the person who was perceived to have the greatest (26)……………………….in brain activity between two stages, produced storylines with highest level of creativity.