The Sci­en­tific Se­cret To Cre­ativ­ity

In Flight Magazine - - IN THIS ISSUE - { TEXT: VA­LERIE VAN MULUKOM: RE­SEARCH AS­SO­CIATE IN PSY­CHOL­OGY, COVEN­TRY UNIVER­SITY/WWW.THE­CON­VER­SA­TION.COM IM­AGES © ISTOCKPHOTO.COM }

WHETHER YOU ARE MES­MERISED BY VINCENT VAN GOGH’S PAINT­ING “THE STARRY NIGHT” OR AL­BERT EIN­STEIN’S THE­O­RIES ABOUT SPACE-TIME, YOU’LL PROB­A­BLY AGREE THAT BOTH PIECES OF WORK ARE PROD­UCTS OF MIND-BLOW­ING CRE­ATIV­ITY. IMAG­I­NA­TION IS WHAT PRO­PELS US FOR­WARD AS A SPECIES – IT EX­PANDS OUR WORLD AND BRINGS US NEW IDEAS, IN­VEN­TIONS AND DIS­COV­ER­IES.

But why do we seem to dif­fer so dra­mat­i­cally in our abil­ity to imag­ine? And can you train your­self to be­come more imag­i­na­tive? Science has come up with some an­swers, based on three dif­fer­ent but in­ter­linked types of imag­i­na­tion.

CRE­ATIVE IMAG­I­NA­TION

“Cre­ative imag­i­na­tion” is what we nor­mally con­sider to be cre­ativ­ity with a large C – com­pos­ing an opera or dis­cov­er­ing some­thing ground­break­ing. This is dif­fer­ent from ev­ery­day cre­ativ­ity, such as com­ing up with imag­i­na­tive so­lu­tions to house­hold prob­lems, or mak­ing crafts.

Cre­ative in­spi­ra­tion is no­to­ri­ously elu­sive. Be­ing able to train cre­ativ­ity or in­duce a state of cre­ativ­ity has there­fore long been the aim of many artists and scientists.

But is it pos­si­ble? We know that some in­di­vid­u­als have a more cre­ative per­son­al­ity than oth­ers.Yet re­search has sug­gested

that cre­ative imag­i­na­tion can also be boosted through our en­vi­ron­ment or by sim­ply putting in lots of hard work. For ex­am­ple, ex­per­i­men­tal stud­ies have shown that when chil­dren en­gage with cre­ative con­tent or watch oth­ers be­ing highly cre­ative, they be­come more cre­ative them­selves.

There are two phases to cre­ative imag­i­na­tion. “Di­ver­gent think­ing” is the abil­ity to think of a wide va­ri­ety of ideas, all some­how con­nected to a main prob­lem or topic. It tends to be sup­ported by in­tu­itive think­ing, which is fast and au­to­matic.You then need “con­ver­gent think­ing” to help you eval­u­ate the ideas for use­ful­ness within the main prob­lem or topic.This process is sup­ported by an­a­lyt­i­cal think­ing – which is slow and de­lib­er­ate – al­low­ing us to select the right idea.

So if you want to write that mas­ter­piece, hav­ing lots of brain­storm­ing ses­sions with friends or tak­ing a course in cre­ative think­ing or writ­ing may help you come up with new ideas. How­ever, that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily help you select a good one. For that, re­search sug­gests that the first re­quire­ment is ex­po­sure and ex­pe­ri­ence. The longer you have worked and thought in a field and learned about a mat­ter – and im­por­tantly, dared to make many mis­takes – the bet­ter you are at in­tu­itively com­ing up with ideas and an­a­lyt­i­cally se­lect­ing the right one.

Cre­ative suc­cess is there­fore not so much about find­ing a muse.As mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist Louis Pas­teur said:“For­tune favours the pre­pared mind.”This also ap­plies to art, as Pablo Pi­casso ad­vised: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

FAN­TAS­TI­CAL IMAG­I­NA­TION

For many peo­ple, the abil­ity to be­come com­pletely ab­sorbed by an idea is key to fi­nal­is­ing a suc­cess­ful cre­ative project. For that you need some­thing scientists call “fan­tas­ti­cal imag­i­na­tion”,

As mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist Louis Pas­teur said: “For­tune favours the pre­pared mind.” This also ap­plies to art, as Pablo Pi­casso said: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

prob­a­bly best pre­dicted by your fan­tasy prone­ness and imag­i­na­tive im­mer­sion. Th­ese de­scribe your ten­dency to have highly vivid and re­al­is­tic fan­tasies and a deep level of ab­sorp­tion in imag­i­nary worlds.

How­ever, given that fan­tas­ti­cal imag­i­na­tion can in­crease day­dream­ing and dis­tract from ev­ery­day obli­ga­tions, it may not seem like a de­sir­able abil­ity to have, at first glance.There’s even a dark side – one’s fan­tas­ti­cal imag­i­na­tion tends to in­crease as a re­sponse to trau­matic events by be­com­ing an es­cape from re­al­ity.

But there are ben­e­fits. Fan­tasy en­gage­ment in chil­dren is as­so­ci­ated with in­creased cre­ative imag­i­na­tion, nar­ra­tive abil­ity, and per­spec­tive tak­ing. For adults, it may help im­prove mem­ory con­sol­i­da­tion, cre­ative prob­lem-solv­ing and plan­ning.

This is also an abil­ity you can boost. Re­search shows that chil­dren who were en­cour­aged by their par­ents to par­tic­i­pate in pre­tence play and role play­ing have higher lev­els of fan­ta­syprone­ness later in life. And it’s never too late to start – ama­teur ac­tors are known to have higher fan­tas­ti­cal imag­i­na­tions too.

EPISODIC IMAG­I­NA­TION

“Episodic imag­i­na­tion” is sim­i­lar to fan­tas­ti­cal imag­i­na­tion, but pre­dom­i­nantly makes use of real (episodic) mem­ory de­tails rather than imag­i­nary (se­man­tic) de­tails when vi­su­al­is­ing events in our mind’s eye.

This helps in­di­vid­u­als to bet­ter imag­ine al­ter­na­tive pasts and learn from their mis­takes, or imag­ine their fu­tures and pre­pare for them. The lit­tle re­search that has been done on this so far in­di­cates that in­di­vid­u­als with a higher ca­pac­ity for vis­ual im­agery ex­pe­ri­ence more sen­sory de­tails when imag­in­ing their fu­ture.

More­over, though years of self-im­prove­ment books sug­gest to “imag­ine it and it will hap­pen”, this is ac­tu­ally the op­po­site of what you should be do­ing.The best prepa­ra­tion for the fu­ture is para­dox­i­cally to imag­ine the process – not the out­come – of your de­sired fu­ture event. One study showed that when stu­dents imag­ined de­sired out­comes (good grades for an up­com­ing test), they per­formed sig­nif­i­cantly worse than stu­dents who imag­ined the process of get­ting to the de­sired out­comes (imag­in­ing study­ing thor­oughly). Per­haps some­thing to keep in mind for your New Year’s res­o­lu­tions?

We all have imag­i­na­tive abil­ity to var­i­ous de­grees, and it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine where hu­mankind would be with­out it. So even though you are yet to ac­tu­ally write that novel you’ve got in you some­where, keep try­ing.There are many routes to boost cre­ativ­ity, with play, prac­tice, and ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing cru­cial. It may even make you smarter.

As Ein­stein him­self re­port­edly once said: “The true sign of in­tel­li­gence is not knowl­edge but imag­i­na­tion.”

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