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Using Research to Enhance Creative Thinking

There may not yet be a “unified field theory” in the science of creativity that definitively explains what it is and how the creative mind operates (see my previous post Do We Have a Science of Creativity?), but a number of research findings provide information in support of developing our creativity and innovation.

In her American Psychological Association article “The science of creativity,” Amy Novotney notes psychologist Robert Epstein, PhD. considers stress and time constraints as inhibitors of creativity.

“When you’re in graduate school, there are so many constraints on you. It’s detrimental to creative expression,” says Epstein, author of “The Big Book of Creativity Games.”

Novotney continues, “Yet it’s almost impossible to conquer any graduate school activity without at least some innovative thinking.

“Collaborating with other researchers, finding a subfield that excites you, maneuvering your way through an unexpected set of findings, and balancing the demands of your work and home life all require creative problem-solving.”

Referring to the idea of a “creativity gene,” Epstein says “There’s not really any evidence that one person is inherently more creative than another,” and creativity is something that anyone can cultivate.

“His research shows that strengthening four core skill sets leads to an increase in novel ideas,” Novotney adds. “Epstein recommends that you: Capture your new ideas, and seek out challenging tasks.

“Also, broaden your knowledge. Take a class outside psychology or read journals in unrelated fields, suggests Epstein. This makes more diverse knowledge available for interconnection, he says, which is the basis for all creative thought.

“Ask for permission to sit in on lectures for a class on 12th century architecture and take notes,” he suggests. “You’ll do better in psychology and life if you broaden your knowledge.”

“Surround yourself with interesting things and people. Regular dinners with diverse and interesting friends and a work space festooned with out-of-the-ordinary objects will help you develop more original ideas, Epstein says. You can also keep your thoughts lively by taking a trip to an art museum or attending an opera—anything that stimulates new thinking.”

Novotney writes, “A study last year in the Creativity Research Journal (Vol. 20, No. 1), found that working on these four areas enhances creativity. Seventy-four city employees from Orange County, Calif., participated in creativity training seminars consisting of games and exercises developed by Epstein to strengthen their proficiency in these four skill sets.

“Eight months later, the employees had increased their rate of new idea generation by 55 percent—a feat that led to more than $600,000 in new revenue and a savings of about $3.5 million through innovative cost reductions.”

Another article: 15 Scientific Facts About Creativity, by Online Universities, summarize other studies.

Here are a few excerpts:

Those considered geniuses describe their creative processes as trancelike

Dr. Nancy Andreasen, who wrote The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius, may not be able to scientifically explain how creativity and genius emerge, but she does know how they inspire and impact the great thinkers.

All people experience moments of “ordinary creativity,” which permeates daily tasks. But the artist, composers, scientists, writers, and others qualifying as geniuses typically talk of oneiric “flashes” setting off their most notable, iconic works.

[Also see my post More Daydreaming, More Creativity.]

A connection between dopamine production and creativity might exist

Because dopamine increases along with positive reinforcement and other rewards, some neurobiologists (like Dr. David Sweatt) believe it easily correlates with creativity, too.

Either receiving money or the simple satisfaction of a job well done might stimulate levels of innovation, and dopamine in kind. Such a link still exists as a theory, albeit one that does go a long way in explaining the sometimes inexplicable.

Creativity might correlate with brain chemistry and structure

Theories regarding creativity’s true origins abound, and some think one’s aptitude may be determined by his or her brain chemistry and structure. University of New Mexico’s Rex Jung believes that if you have less of certain neurological phenomena, you’re better off when it comes to creative pursuits.

[One of his publications: Brain imaging studies of intelligence and creativity: what is the picture for education?]

Specific chemicals froth about in smaller dosages, while white matter sits weaker and the frontal lobe’s cortical regions are thinner. Interestingly enough, brains testing higher on intelligence tests feature the exact opposite composition. Generally speaking, of course.

Image from book: Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, by Ken Robinson.

Article continues in Part 2.


Using Research to Enhance Creative Thinking

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Using Research to Enhance Creative Thinking. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Jun 2012
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