The pursuit to understand the process of understanding is one of the most multifaceted areas of scientific research. This is especially true when the focus of study is a controversial topic like creativity. It’s like trying to see one’s eye with one’s eye, and these studies will always be biased as long as these experiments continue to be carried out by humans on humans.
However, looking past the task within itself, a reappearing theme caught my attention throughout the exploration of The Cognitive Neuroscience of Creativity: A Critical Review by Keith Sawyer. These studies examined the functionality of creativity in relation to the physical configuration of the brain, and almost all of them emphasize the role of association when evaluating one’s creativity.
The role of association, the ability to make connections to seemingly unrelated concepts in a familiar way, is a trait I personally have observed in all successful creative individuals. This ability is reckoned as “novelty” in the US Patent’s definition, but it also shares traits of the surprise factor within the equation:
C = NUS
where N, U, and S indicate novelty, utility, and surprise, respectively.
This is important to consider because the level of surprise should be determined by considering context of the individual’s mental health.
Novelty and surprise vary depending on source and circumstance. Naturally, more novelty would be expected if a “randomly” generated sentence is produced by a person of standard mental health, versus someone with schizophrenia. It would be less surprising to encounter such randomness from the latter.
So when evaluating creativity, it is important to consider mental health. Something is less creative if it is coming from an individual with a disease such as schizophrenia, right?
It’s a theory worth investigating. Dr. Nancy Andreasen in Secrets of the Creative Brains, conducted a study on a large diversity of successful individuals across all boards of creativity. The study was done to observe any trends within personality traits of these individuals. Her results revealed a majority of these creatives to have or be related to someone with schizophrenic traits. She even goes as far as to say something along the lines of,
“mental illness makes the world interesting“.
How important is it really to consider the individual’s mental state when judging their creativity? Maybe the diminished touch of reality that often results from schizophrenia is a proponent for creativity. Maybe the increase in neuronal activity enables more efficiency within divergent thinking, or even in the role of incubation by enabling an ideal environment for one’s default network;
“These brief episodes of mind wandering may provide the mind with moments of ‘mini incubation’ that contribute to creative thought, by temporarily taking conscious attention away from the problem at hand and providing a brief opportunity for insight to occur.”
-(Hotz, 2009; Tierney, 2010).
Andreasen, N. C. (2004). Dr. Andreasen Replies. American Journal of Psychiatry,161(9), 1725-1725. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.161.9.1725
Raymond, S. M. (2017). Neural Foundations of Creativity: A Systematic Review. Revista Colombiana De Psiquiatría,46(3), 187-192. doi:10.1016/j.rcp.2016.06.003
Sawyer, K. (2011). The Cognitive Neuroscience of Creativity: A Critical Review. Creativity Research Journal,23(2), 137-154. doi:10.1080/10400419.2011.571191