Monday, 12 December 2011

Notes on creativity: Creativity is old but not part of the lizard brain

 The capacity to develop original or novel ideas or to produce novel, beautiful, and useful artifacts is perhaps the most important cognitive trait that human beings possess.  

These are a collection of thoughts plucked from other sources around the notion of creativity. They are just some aspects which interested me, at this point in time.

Earliest forms of creativity may well have been in story telling. When Jazz musicians improvise researchers found that the same areas of their brain are used as whenpeople tell storiesThe first human artistic representations, markings with ground red ocher, seem to have occurred about 100,000 B.C. in African rock art. Visual creativity is likely to significantly pre date this in the form of body decoration.

Creativity is good for us.

The psychological basis of creativity has been described variously as the need to be different (Joy, 2004), the decision to create (Sternberg, 2003), creative attitude (Maslow, 1967)

According to Maslow, peak moments arrive when all your struggling for survival is over. You have climbed the pyramid of basic needs, security, food, finance and now have the time – not just time, the luxury- to reflect on your situation.  The good news is, you do not have to go to an exotic place to experience this. They happen anywhere- while weeding the garden, walking to the bus stop, or washing the dishes. 

One of the characteristics of peaking is euphoria- known to some as a ‘high,’ as altitude represents literally a feeling of being out and above your normal bodily restraints.  Even to remember such a moment can trigger the body’s hormones: serotonin and endorphins –which tend to enhance the capacity for even more enjoyment. 

It can strike at any time and requires us to reduce our self criticism
Interviews with creative people reveal that inspiration and ideas often come to them when they aren’t looking for them, when they are in the shower, or running, or having trouble falling asleep, Dr. Andreasen reported in a recent research paper.

This suggests that creativity involves an unconscious rather than a conscious process, she said.

Toronto researcher Oshin Vartanian suspects that creativity is related to the ability to stifle our inner critic. He is interested in how some parts of the brain are silenced so that out-of-the box ideas can emerge.

This silencing is blocking out the fear impulses of the old – lizard brain. The lizard brain is there to ensure you protect and survive. Being creative is about putting out ideas which can be criticized, which puts us in danger. The lizard brain protects us. ( )

As we grow older we grow fearful of our creative abilities

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.  
Pablo Picasso

At around about the age of five, we are using about 80% of our creative potential. We invent daily - no matter than our inventions have been invented before, the fact is that we are innovating at a remarkable rate.

The scary coda to this story is that by the age of twelve, our creative output has declined to about 2% of our potential, and it generally stays there for the rest of our lives.

We are straight-jacketed and smart-stepped into doing what others do and not reinventing our worlds every day. When someone is being creative, they are also rather unpredictable, which can make living with them an uncertain and perhaps threatening experience. So we are taught to be polite and be nice to people, including not scaring them with our creative thoughts.
(How to Invent (Almost) Anything by David Straker and Graham Rawlinson)

…and the education process does not help…

We also know that rewarding creativity creates negative results.

In doing so we turn the creative process form which provides intrinsic rewards to one where the rewards are extrinsic. Creating things for the sake of making them and for the pleasure the process of creativity delivers is much preferable to creating in order to gain external reward.
(Social influences on creativity: The effects of contracted-for reward.
Amabile, Teresa M.; Hennessey, Beth A.; Grossman, Barbara S.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 50(1), Jan 1986, 14-23. Doi)


  • We have a deep rooted need to create
  • We always have
  • We gain from the process of being creative without external reward
  • But as we age we use less and less of our creative ability
  • Seek stymulus and variety, change and  create dissonance in ones daily experiences.
  • Find ways which suit oneself to be creative, and do not worry about the opinion of others and ignore your internal critics.
  • Go with the creative flow and feel the benefits.

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