The Mouse Trap readers will be glad to know that I have started writing a column over at The Creativity Post, titled ‘The muses and the furies’ where i will talk about creativity and the thin line dividing genius and madness.
My first post focuses on delineating the components of creativity. Here is an excerpt:
I propose that creativity is made of four factors:
1. The first factor is SURPRISE: whether one produces something that continues captivating attention, even though it becomes familiar over time. This may result from rare and remote association of ideas or a recombination process that brings familiar things together in an unfamiliar/unexpected way. This is the ability to think beyond conventional boundaries or categories, loosen up the associations and make remote associations between and within categories. This is also related to flexibility with which you can walk across categories and disciplines. An example might be Mona Lisa by Da Vinci or putting a urinal in an art gallery.
2. The second factor is ORIGINALITY: whether one produces something that is really unique and novel and unheard of before. This is creativity that is not just combinatorial but perhaps associated with transforming and transcending. As pre Pribram novelty is a result of new rearrangements of old ideas. If the first factor is about combination, this may be thought of as permutation or reordering. This is related to originality scores. An example might be cubism by Picasso where the face/familiar objects are rearranged, sort of.
3. The third factor is BEAUTY: whether one produces something that is appealing and aesthetically satisfying. Beauty lies in the eyes of beholder and is related to subjective preferences. Identifying beauty is a fast and frugal process and as per one conception, we find something beautiful, if we can process it easily (that is why average faces are more beautiful- ease of processing). This is related to fluency scores or the ease with which you can ideate. Expressionisms by Monet et al looks beautiful because it’s easy on eyes.
4. The fourth factor is of UTILITY: whether one produces something that is useful. As evident from the alternate uses task the utility of something is ambiguous and context dependent and yet measured objectively and not subjectively. Creativity is the ability to deal with this inherent ambiguity, be comfortable with it and look at things from multiple simultaneous perspectives to find useful contexts in which to use/ apply it. This is the ability to see if the solution actually solves the problem. Also the ability to elaborate an idea and add details to it, so as to make it useful/ relevant. Here, one can focus on one stream of thought/ idea and take it to logical conclusion, adding details and making it complex. The Miniature art of India, that has elaborate details, is an example of this form, and is useful in reconstructing history.
Read the full text here.
While we are talking about creativity, I recently engaged with Sam McNerney in a debate about whether a focus on small c creativity detracts from addressing the really important questions of Genius. Again an excerpt follows:
While I agree with Sam, whole-heartedly, that big C creativity merits a concerted focus, I also believe that small c is the way we will inch closer to the enigma of genius. It’s true that myths about creativity — that it is easy, natural for some, mostly cognitive in nature — should be dispelled in favor of a more rounded account of genius that takes grit, positivity, endurance, effort and curiosity into account. It is equally true that we can only reveal the essence of the creative process — that it involves recombination to produce surprise element, or transformations to produce novelty element, that great works of art/creativity are selected for by arbitrary aesthetic preferences as well as utilitarian concerns — by focusing closely on the small, everyday c creativity and the processes underlying them.
Lest I be misunderstood, my objection to Sam is on two counts: one, that the perpetuating myth of anguished art and tormented genius is as counterproductive as any other myth. Most creators/ innovators are likely to have positive frames of mind that treat failures as learning opportunities; I’m not saying they don’t struggle or work hard, but they don’t, necessarily, see the struggle as painful, but rather see it as challenging and enriching.
Second, a focus on small c creativity is as necessary as a focus on Big C creativity — as that approach is more likely to yield early fruits and help in identification of mechanisms.
Read the full argument here.
Another debate in which I recently engaged was with Douglas Fields (his ‘The other Brain’ was earlier reviewed on the mouse trap) – in which I argued that academic success was multi-factorial and good grades and test scores are not an either/or proposition . Excerpt follows:
Thus I would suggest that all academic success, however they are measured, are dependent on four factors: innate ability or intelligence, self-control and hard work, grit and motivational resilience and finally, a positive, incremental mindset. While some academic outcomes, like achievement test results (e.g., SATs) may depend disproportionately on innate ability and mindset (test results and transfer of learning), other outcomes—like grades—may depend more on personality factors like self-control and grit/motivation.
Read the full text here.
Infants’ and children’s personality structure is studied by studying their ‘temperaments’. To me, personality structure enfolds over time and there are some traits that are more genetic and heritable in nature while the remaining are more self-chosen and under self-control. The former may be named more temperamental in nature, while the latter may be named more character strengths like.
A model of personality that subsumes but artificially divdes the personality traits into temperaments and character traits is the Cloninger‘s TCI based model of personality. Although popular and theory based, it at times lacks empirical support.
Infant and child psychologists, study personality under the rubric of temperament, as it is assumed that much of the child’s personality is due to genetics and developmental influences are not yet strong/influential enough.
So what are the popular models of childhood temperaments? A synthesis is provided by Zuckerman in his influential book “Psychobiology of personality”. He discusses the models of many influential child theorists and comes to the final list of 6 temperaments that are most relevant/common across schema.
These are (in a developmentally unfolding order (as per me)) :
- Negative emotionality – gets upset and cries easily, is easily frightened and/or has a quick temper, and is not easygoing
- Approach (sensation seeking) – Approach towards cues of reward or novelty with positive affect
- Activity (energy/vigor)- always on the go from the time of waking, cannot sit still for long, fidgets at meals and similar occasions, prefers active games to quiet ones
- Persistence (perseverance) – The length of time a particular activity is pursued and the continuation in an activity in spite of attempts at interference
- Anger/frustration – Frustration/ anger in response to goal-blocking
- Sociability – likes to be with others, makes friends easily, prefers to play with others rather than alone, is not shy.
- Impulsivity (spontaneity)- difficulty in learning self-control and resistance to temptation, gets bored easily, goes from toy to toy quickly.
- Sensitivity (sentimentality) – The intensity of stimulation in any sensory modality that is necessary to evoke a response
To boot, the first four temperaments are a dynamics between the polarities of approach(pleasure) - withdrawal (pain) vis-a-vis the polarity of arousal (active) and inhibition (passive).
Similarly, the last four temperaments can be conceived of as the dynamics between self/other and being broadly or narrowly focused and engaged.
To elaborate, the first group of temperaments can be associated with avoidance motivation and the last group with approach motivation. In the former, a sensitivity to feel threatening stimuli painfully leads to negative emotionality or Fear; while when derives pleasure from the same one feels Thrill/excitement/surprise and has sensation seeking or approach temperament. Similarly, a sensitivity to approach the desirable stimuli actively by showing Activity or passively by showing interest (from a distance) leads to the other two dimensions.
Similar dynamic exists for e.g. for anger/frustration and sociability - when one is governed by social concerns and is focused on others (con-specifics) , at times of conflicts/stress one may fight/show aggression or utilize the strategy of tend/befriend. The inclination towards former results in aggressive/conduct disorder/anti-social temperaments; while a propensity for latter results in agreeable/sociable temperaments.
Similarly, one can hypothesize that when one is self-focused and in pursuit of solitary activities, one either is very internally driven, impulsive and spontaneous; or one is more externally sensitive to context and is still socially conformant.
Finally, here are the mappings between childhood temperaments and adult personality traits as per me:
- -ve emotionality: Neuroticism
- Sensation seeking/approach: Extraversion
- Activity : Extraversion
- Persistence: Conscientiousness
- Anger/frustration: Non-conformity
- Sociability: Agreeableness
- Implusivity: Extraversion
- Sensitivity: Neurotincism
A new study by Ruthsatz and Urbach is doing the rounds nowadays. That study has nothing to do with Autism or ADHD per se. The study focuses on child prodigies and finds that they have high levels of intelligence, enhanced working memory and that they pay attention to details.
What the study also found was high level of autistic relatives and high scores on Autism spectrum for the prodigies. The relation between autism and prodigiousness was mediated by the endo-phenotype ‘paying attention to detail’ and none of the other symptoms of ASD seemed to play a role.
Many savants also are high on ASD and have exception working as well as long term memory. There too they pay excessive attention to details and are fascinated by speical interests.
On the other hand there is gathering literature that suggests that the ADHD kid is basically on the creative side of the spectrum – restless, trying multiple strategies, having diffused and peripheral attention, and to an extent novelty and sensation seeking.
Also, if one thinks about that for a minute, autism and ADHD seem to be opposed on a number of dimensions. The three basic features of ADHD are 1) inattentiveness and distractibility vs too much focus and fascination for an object shown by Autistic kid 2) impulsiveness vs restricted and repetitive motions and interests of the autistic kid and finally 3) hyperactivity vs restrained interactions and communications of the autistic kid.
There is also some data from fly models that suggest that autism and ADHD are opposites in a sense.
I may even go ahead and stick my neck and say that while autism is primarily characterized by emotion of Interest/ fascination/ attention ; ADHD is characterized by emotion of Wonder/Awe/surprise.
One theory of autism suggests that the social and communicative difficulties arise as the child hides in a cocoon to prevent over-stimulation and sensory overload; a theory of ADHS says that the child is under-stimulated and needs stimulants like Ritalin to achieve baseline of activation and sensory stimulus.
Another popular theory of autism posits that it arises primarily due to ‘weak central coherence’, or inability to see the context/ gestalt/ ‘the big picture’. The ADHD kid on the other hand is hypothesized to use a lot of peripheral attention and daydreams missing what is being centrally taught in the classroom.
And that brings me to the root of the differences in my opinion; while the Autism spectrum is characterized by a local processing style, the ADHD-psychotic spectrum is characterized by a global processing style.
Some clarifications are due here. I believe ADHD to fall on the psychotic spectrum and have been proposing the autism and psychosis as opposites on a continuum model for close to eternity.
Also, when I say global/local processing styles I dont restrict the application to perception alone, but extend it to include cognitive style too.
There is a lot of work that has been done on global/ local processing styles with respect to perception, using Navon letter tasks and it is fairly established that normally people lean towards the global processing style.
Forrester et al extend this to cover there GLOMOSYS system that posits two basic types of perceptual/cognitive style- global and local.
It is instructive to pause and note here that psychosis is associated with a global processing style while autism with attention to details.
It is also instructive to pause and note that similar to autism-psychosis continuum , it seems Intelligence and creativity are also in a sense opposed to each other. Also while creativity is associated with broad cognitive style that is divergent; intelligence is conceived of as narrow and focused application of abilities.
That brings me to my final analogy: while autistic kids may have pockets of intelligence and savantism and may be driving the evolution of intelligence; it is the ADHD kids who are more likely to be creative and are driving the evolution of creativity.
The romantic notion that psychosis is the price for creativity may not be untrue.
Joanne Ruthsatz, & Jourdan B. Urbach (2012). Child prodigy: A novel cognitive profile places elevated general intelligence,
exceptional working memory and attention to detail at the root
of prodigiousness Intelligence DOI: 10.1016/j.intell.2012.06.002
Jens F¨orster, & Laura Dannenberg (2010). GLOMOsys: A Systems Account of Global Versus Local Processing Psychological Inquiry, DOI: 10.1080/1047840X.2010.487849
The first article focused on determining the underlying structure of creativity and intelligence, partly by looking at how they are defined and measured, and came up with the following schema for creativity:
1. The first factor is of UTILITY: whether one produces something that is useful. As evident from the alternate uses task the utility of something is ambiguous and context dependent. Creativity is the ability to deal with this inherent ambiguity, be comfortable with it and look at things from multiple simultaneous perspectives to find useful contexts. Politics (leadership) epitomises this ability. This is also related to speed and fluency with which you can hold multiple representations or generate multiple ideas. Taken to an extreme this may result in flight of ideas and racing thoughts typical of mania. Relating to personality constructs this is measured by feelings/ actions facets of openness to experience. The product associated with this type of creativity is typically an invention. In terms of existing schemata, you use multiple schemas simultaneously or let the member belong to multiple categories.
2. The second factor is ORIGINALITY: whether one produces something that is appealing and aesthetically satisfying and original. Originality sometimes lies in making remote associations (think mixing of metaphors etc). Creativity is the ability to think beyond conventional boundaries or categories, loosen up the associations and make remote associations between and within categories. Art epitomises this ability. This is also related to flexibility with which you can walk across categories and disciplines. Taken to extreme this may lead to apophenia (or seeing patterns everywhere and correlating everything in a loose framework), over-inclusive delusions, and scizotypy or even full blown schizophrenia. Relating to personality constructs this is measured by aesthetics facets of openness to experience. The product associated with this type of creativity is typically a new stylistics. In terms of existing schemata, you loosen your schemata boundaries and let them overlap.
3. The third factor is SURPRISABILITY: whether one produces something that is really unique and novel and unheard of before. Surprisabililty is creativity that is not just combinatorial but perhaps associated with transforming and transcending. The role of imagination is prominent here. Also serendipity and latent thinking is more prominent here. Mythmaking / religion epitomises this ability. This is also related to originality where a truly unique take is evident. Fantasy and role playing are important. Constructs like distractibility and latent inhibition are also relevant here. Taken to extreme this may result in attention problems associated with ADHD always being enthralled by something novel rather than paying attention to routine but boring stuff. Relating to personality constructs this is measured by fantasy facets of openness to experience. The product associated with this type of creativity is typically a social innovation. In terms of existing schemata, you transform your schemata and create new categories by principle of accommodation.
A similar, tripartite structure, for intelligence was also arrived at:
To sum up, The three broad factors of intelligence are:
1. Processing speed: related to inductive part of Gf, selective attention and set updating. This is measured using problem solving especially puzzles. This is also the algorithmic mind using the method of simulation (Stanovich). This parallels fluency/utility facet of creativity.
2. (Working) memory: related to crystallized Gc, sustained attention and set shifting. This is measured using ability to recognise explicit patterns and analogies. This is also the remembering mind using the method of serial associative cognition (Stanovich). This parallels flexibility/ beauty facet of creativity.
3. Planning: related to deductive part of Gf, divided attention and set initiation. This is measured using abstract reasoning and inhibition tasks like the stroop task. This is also the reflective mind using the method of TASS override (Stanovich). This parallels originality/novelty facet of creativity.
In the second article I related this tripartite structure to the underlying BVSR process as follows:
So, how does BVSR lead to creativity?
Blind means unsighted or unplanned or something which comes out of such a blind process will not be expected but necessarily involve leaps and be non-obvious and surprise us with the serendipitous results. Thus blindness ensures Surprisability.
Variation means recombination or transformations or some such process that leads to new and novel variants. Thus variation guarantees Originality.
Selection means separating wheat from the chaff based on either subjective criteria like Beauty or objective criteria like Truth. In either case the idea retained will be either true or adaptive/useful. In other words, Selection necessitates Utility.
Retention means developing the selected idea to completion, validating it and using similar means again. Typical means may include trying to replicate the phenomenon. Given that the BVS part of BVSR may work unconsciously it is hard to replicate or deliver the same creative performance again; the same may not be true of a scientific discovery though. We will not focus on retention here which has to do with repetition of the act, in my opinion, and not that relevant to the creative process.
As you move towards more sighted variant of BVSR, you move from creativity to intelligence.
With that in mind I propose the following table for creativity and intelligence
and the following for intelligence…
Abundant evidence exists that psychosis is more prevalent in urban areas as compared to rural areas. The fact that living in the city makes one vulnerable to psychosis is not up for debate – but healthy debate ensues about the mediating mechanisms.
Last year, Zammit et al claimed that the high incidence of psychosis in urban settings is a result of greater social fragmentation in urban areas.
Today I came across a study [pdf] that had nothing to do with psychosis and came up with this novel hypothesis that the mediating mechanism may be global versus local focus or processing style. If that seems farfetched, bear with me for a while.
First a bit of background, the new study was referenced by Christian Jarrett in a BPS research digest blog post in which he lucidly shows that it has been found that living in urban areas has been found to be associated with a propensity for global processing style (seeing the forest); while living in rural areas has been found to be associated with a local processing style (focusing on the trees and missing the forest).
The study itself is pretty straight forward; in one of the local/global task it used the famous Ebbinghaus illusion (see image) to measure the amount of bias towards global vis-a-vis local processing.
In the second task it used large, composite (global) shapes/letters made of small, parts (local) which were also themselves shapes/letters and then measured whether one was more drawn in making inferences/similarity based on global percepts or the local figurine.
The study measured this global vs. local bias in Himba society (Namibia) members who had varying level of exposure to urban environments as well as Japanese and British urbanites. What they found was that living in urban areas/ exposure to urban areas was significantly predictive of whether you would lean more towards more global mode of processing. The authors link this with more ‘visual clutter’ in the cities necessitating a global style of processing.
Christian mentions in passing the fact that autistic people have a very local bias of processing and are marked by weak central coherence; what he perhaps doesn’t realize is that psychotics, which have been conceptualized to lie diametrically opposed on a continuum from autistic, have a global processing bias and a strong central coherence.
Badcock and Crespi, and I even before them, have been crying from the rooftops to conceptualize psychosis and autism as diametrical disorders – and some investigators have paid heed. Suzzana N et al [pdf] have recently shown that as conceptualized by Badcock and Crespi , Autistics and Psychotics are actually at opposed ends of local vs global processing.
We refer particularly to Crespi and Badcock (2008), who make the novel claim that the autism and positive schizophrenia spectra are diametrically opposed. They argue that individuals with autistic traits and individuals with positive symptoms of schizophrenia (e.g., magical ideation, unusual perceptual experiences and paranoia) should exhibit opposite cognitive profiles. The current investigation focuses specifically on their claim that autistic and positive schizophrenia traits contrastingly affect preference for local (i.e., piecemeal) versus global (i.e., integrative) processing.
Crespi and Badcock (2008) argue that while autistic traits are associated with a preference for local over global processing, positive schizophrenia traits are associated with a preference for global over local processing. That is, these authors claim that while individuals with autism show a tendency to focus on detail or process features in their isolation, individuals with traits of positive schizophrenia show a tendency to look at the ‘bigger picture’ or process features as an integrated whole. Although a preference for local processing fits theoretically with the tendency of individuals with autism to notice minor features or changes to the environment that are often overlooked by others (Hayes 1987), the link between traits of positive schizophrenia and a preference for global processing is less obvious. It is hypothesized though, that a global processing style could contribute to the complex delusions and enhanced creativity for individuals with positive schizophrenia (Nettle 2006; Oberman and Pascual-Leone 2008), as well as the tendency of these individuals to make ‘‘loose” associations between words and between aspects of the environment (Maher 1983; Spitzer 1997; Spitzer et al. 1993). Importantly, the effect of such loose associations is that one thought does not logically relate to the next, and thus these associations may be strongly linked to the hallucinations and delusions experienced by individuals with positive schizophrenia. However, while there are potential links of local and global processing to features of autism and positive schizotypy, the preferred processing styles for individuals with autistic and schizophrenic traits are yet to be examined together in the one investigation. Therefore, the current study aims to provide the first complete empirical test of Crespi and Badcock’s claim regarding local-global processing.
And this is exactly what they found. They used an embedded figural task to assess the global vs. Local bias and their results showed that indeed psychosis prone individuals had a more global style of processing.
Now one thing I am good at is putting two and two together and the moment I saw the new study correlating global style with urban living, a lot of pieces fell into place. Form the above it is apparent that global processing style may be an intermediate mediating factor that leads to association between urban living and psychosis.
What neural mechanism may be involved?
To quote from the Suzzana et al paper again:
The contrasting preferences for local versus global processing are identified with differences in brain connectivity in particular (Crespi and Badcock 2008). Reference is made to both structural (intrahemispheric and interhemispheric) and functional connectivity. Specifically, Crespi and Badcock argue that the preference for local over global processing displayed by individuals with autistic traits, compared to controls or individuals low on autistic traits, is a result of increased connectivity within neural regions relative to decreased connectivity across regions (Courchesne and Pierce 2005a, b; Happe´ and Frith 2006). Crespi and Badcock then argue that schizophrenia is associated with decreased connectivity within neural regions relative to an increased connectivity across brain regions (Colger and Serafetinides 1990; Siekmeier and Hoffman 2002), leading individuals with traits of positive schizophrenia to favor a global (over local) processing style, compared to controls or people low on these traits. These differences in brain connectivity for autism and positive schizophrenia are said to be mediated, at least in part, by genomic imprinting.
While genomic imprinting may be one mechanism, maybe there is something about exposure to urban environments (maybe it’s ‘visual clutter’) that also has a similar effect on pruning of synapses and unduly affect local pruning at the cost of pruning between widely separated regions thus leading to global processing bias.
Instructive to pause here and note that in children they start with local bias and around 6 year of age revert to global bias that adults typically have and this is mediated by synaptic pruning. See this open access PLOS one article.
Thus, it seems Psychosis and the City are intimately connected; and that, this is because, to live in a city, you need to (de)focus on ‘the big picture’.
Caparos, S., Ahmed, L., Bremner, A., de Fockert, J., Linnell, K., & Davidoff, J. (2012). Exposure to an urban environment alters the local bias of a remote culture Cognition, 122 (1), 80-85 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2011.08.013
Crespi, B., & Badcock, C. (2008). Psychosis and autism as diametrical disorders of the social brain Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31 (03) DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X08004214
Zammit, S., Lewis, G., Rasbash, J., Dalman, C., Gustafsson, J., & Allebeck, P. (2010). INDIVIDUALS, SCHOOLS AND NEIGHBOURHOODS; A MULTILEVEL LONGITUDINAL STUDY OF VARIATION IN INCIDENCE OF PSYCHOTIC DISORDERS Schizophrenia Research, 117 (2-3), 181-182 DOI: 10.1016/j.schres.2010.02.223
Russell-Smith, S., Maybery, M., & Bayliss, D. (2010). Are the Autism and Positive Schizotypy Spectra Diametrically Opposed in Local Versus Global Processing? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40 (8), 968-977 DOI: 10.1007/s10803-010-0945-7