Posts tagged creativity
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.
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
Yesterday I wrote a post about ADHD and creativity and how the frontal lobes hypo-function and dopamine may be the mediating factors involved. Today I serendipitously came across this article by Thomson-Schill et al in which they posit that frontal cortex hypofunction during childhood is beneficial, on average, as it enables convention learning and thus linguistic acquisition.
What they basically mean is that frontal cortex has been found to be involved in cognitive control i.e. in higher cognitive functions like planning, flexible thinking etc ; and the frontal cortex does this by biasing the competitive responses elicited by a stimuli by goals /existing beliefs / other task related information that is maintained in the working memory. To take an example, cognitive control is often measured by tasks such as the stroop task. the strrop task measures how well you are able to suppress the prepotent response tendency of naming the color-term itself by the task-relevant constraint that you name the color of the term instead. when a color term like ‘green’ is presented in Red color, then the green as well as red linguistic response compete with each other. In the absence of frontal biasing in teh direction of color ie.e red, we are apt to name the color-term itself i.e green by default which is the habitual response. Children , who have less well-developed frontal cortices generally perform poorer at the stroop task than adults as their frontal cortex does not bias or tilt the scales in favor of the color used rather than the color-term presented.
The authors claim that this inability to bias results on the basis of pre-existing knowledge/beliefs leads to a greater ability to learn. They posit that learning conditions (that maximize competition ) are different from performance conditions (where one response needs to be selected or competition minimized) and the child’s brain is optimized for learning by not having frontal inhibition and control. An example they give is filtering noise form signal which the child are able to do, but adults can’t. for eg. if a new language has a phrase ‘et tu brute’ and 75 % of times it is in this form and 25% of times it is of the form ‘et tu vous Brute’, then adults will tend to probability match and select the utterance/ utter themselves phrase ‘et tu brute’ 75% of times and ‘et tu vous Brute’ 25 % of times. This is because when they want to utter the phrase their existing knowledge that sometimes the other phrase is also used, makes them sensitive to variations. In child’s brain on the other hand a competition between the two phrases takes place and as there is no moderating influence involved, the outcome hundred percent of the time is ‘et tu brute’. Thus, they are able to learn conventional meaning of a phrase/word etc more easily than an adult who gets bogged down by variations. Thus sometimes, less is more!
However the reason I got hooked to this study is the implications they draw for ADHD/Autism and creativity. I’ll quote them verbatim on the issue:
Central to our proposal is the claim that the timing of PFC development has been the target of selection and, therefore, that variations in timing are functionally meaningful. Recent neuroimaging studies have revealed potentially important differences in the timing of PFC development across typical and atypical individuals. Variations in the trajectory of PFC maturation (based on repeated measures of cortical thickness) have been associated with cognitive measures in typically developing children (Shaw et al., 2006). Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) exhibit a delay in cortical maturation that is most prominent in the PFC (Shaw et al., 2007). In contrast, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) undergo early maturation of the PFC (Carper, Moses, Tigue, & Courchesne, 2002). A better understanding of the implications of these timing changes for both learning and performance may illuminate some of the behavioral and cognitive patterns associated with these diagnoses (e.g., impaired acquisition of social conventions in ASD), as well as offer a fertile ground for testing the validity of our hypothesis that typical PFC development involves a trade-off in favor of learning to the detriment of performance in infancy and early childhood.
This gels quite nicely with what I have been speculating for some time, that ADHD and Autism are opposed and that ADHD is childhood equivalent of psychosis. ADHD kids are bound to be good learners, more divergent creative and have better social and linguistic skills. Autistic kids on the other hand would be better performers (say child prodigies in memory etc) , more convergent thinkers, and have less social and linguistic skills- one mechanism of which may be lesser ability to learn social and linguistic conventions- like the usage of metaphorical terms.
On creativity this is what the authors say:
Creativity—the ability to approach an object or a situation from an alternative perspective—may benefit from the unsupervised competition that occurs in the absence of prefrontal control. Consider one common assessment of creative thinking, the Alternative Uses Task: When attempting to think of ways to use an object in some atypical way, adults struggle. In this case, an active PFC might, paradoxically, hinder flexible thinking, because the representation of the object is sculpted by prior experience and expectations. Interestingly, young children are immune to this kind of functional fixedness (German&Defeyter, 2000). Successful performance in similar tasks of ideational fluency has been associated with EEG changes in prefrontal regions (e.g., Mo¨lle, Marshall, Wolf, Fehm, & Born, 1999). Furthermore, patients with PFC damage solve insight-problemsolving tasks better than do their healthy counterparts (Reverberi, Toraldo, D’Agostini, & Skrap, 2005). This apparent flexibility of behavior can be interpreted as a stimulus-driven response: A mind that is at the mercy of its environment is not shaped by expectations or beliefs. This interpretation highlights a parallel between functional fixedness and probability matching, in that both of these ‘‘adult’’ phenomena involve biasing stimulus–response associations based on expectations. This proposal suggests new avenues of investigation into the processes that support creative thought and into putative relations between creativity and psychological disorders associated with hypometabolic prefrontal function (i.e., a state of lower energy consumption in the PFC, as in bipolar disorder, for example).
The above analysis of creativity in terms of hypofunction of frontal cortex bodes well for my theories of creativity-ADHD relationships as well as creativity-psychosis (bipolar etc) relationship, both of which involve developmental or functional hypofucnction of frontal cortex.
Thompson-Schill, S., Ramscar, M., & Chrysikou, E. (2009). Cognition Without Control: When a Little Frontal Lobe Goes a Long Way Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18 (5), 259-263 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01648.x
A new paper by Ben Bashat et al extends their earlier findings that had found that there was accelerated maturation of white matter in children with Autism. In this new paper they use Tract Based Spatial statistics (TBSS) to determine the white matter integrity of children (age around 3 years) with Autism as compared to normal controls. Of course they used Diffusion tensor Imaging to find out Fractional anisotropy and other measures of white matter integrity.
Essentially they found that in some regions/tracts there was greater Fractional Anisotropy (FA) as compared to controls. These regions/tracts were genu and body of the corpus callosum (CC), left superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) and right and left cingulum (Cg). They also found that in areas of high FA there was corresponding decrease in Radial diffusivity (Dr). What this essentially means, to my naive mind, is that greater conductance or speed of action potential in axons would primarily be due to enhanced myelination which reduces leakage or lateral flow of AP.
I’ll like to contrast the results with an earlier study I had blogged about regarding creativity, psychopathology and white matter mylienation connection. As per that study an inverse relation was found between people high on creativity (divergent type) and Fractional anisotropy in frontal regions, i’e there was low FA. Also importantly there was increased Dr (radial diffusivity) in the same regions and thus the conclusion was that there was reduced myelination in those areas which meant reduced signal transmission speed and more signal leak . It is notable that that study too used DTI and Tract based Spatial statistics (TBSS) analysis method to arrive at their conclusions.
Regular readers of this blog will know my fanaticism for Autism and Psychosis as opposites on a continuum theory. This new paper nicely fits in with my last post linking creativity/psychosis and white matter/myelination, I had as much surmised that Autism would show the opposite effect and have high FA and decreased Dr. It is heartening to note when such a relation is found and reported- goes to show the strength and ability to make predictions of the theory.
However, I would also like to point out and highlight that I believe Autistic spectrum is characterized by another type of ability – the savantic intelligence– that may be directly due to this white matter /excess myelination effect. Perhaps the signals travel so fast that decisions are made locally without the time available to get other far-0off regions involved- thus giving attention to details but inability to link disparate regions and ideas.
Weinstein, M., Ben-Sira, L., Levy, Y., Zachor, D., Itzhak, E., Artzi, M., Tarrasch, R., Eksteine, P., Hendler, T., & Bashat, D. (2010). Abnormal white matter integrity in young children with autism Human Brain Mapping DOI: 10.1002/hbm.21042
Ben Bashat, D., Kronfeld-Duenias, V., Zachor, D., Ekstein, P., Hendler, T., Tarrasch, R., Even, A., Levy, Y., & Ben Sira, L. (2007). Accelerated maturation of white matter in young children with autism: A high b value DWI study NeuroImage, 37 (1), 40-47 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.04.060
Jung, R., Grazioplene, R., Caprihan, A., Chavez, R., & Haier, R. (2010). White Matter Integrity, Creativity, and Psychopathology: Disentangling Constructs with Diffusion Tensor Imaging PLoS ONE, 5 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009818
Divergent thinking is influenced by dopaminergic function. Reuter  found a correlation between divergent thinking (the Inventiveness battery of the Berliner Intelligenz Struktur Test) and polymorphisms of the dopamine D2 receptor gene–DRD2 TAQ IA. Higher creativity scores were observed in carriers of the A1 allele. This polymorphism is unrelated to general intelligence , , which suggests that it is more specifically related to Glr (“long-term storage and retrieval”). This finding is in line with functional imaging research showing the D2 system to be involved in attentional set shifting and response flexibility, which are important components of divergent thinking . Furthermore, the finding indicates that divergent thinking is related to regional differences in D2 densities, since the DRD2 TAQ IA polymorphism has been shown to modulate D2 binding potential (D2BP) in both striatal  and extrastriatal regions .
Divergent thinking is traditionally measured using alternate uses test, for eg., in which a familiar object like brick is provided and subjects asked to name novel use for that object. The responses are marked for creativity as per the follwoing criterion:
- Fluency–the number of valid responses;
- Originality–how frequent the participant’s responses were among the responses of the rest of the sample;
- Flexibility–the number of semantic categories produced;
- Switching–the number of shifts between semantic categories;
- and Elaboration–how extensive each response is (if the task involves producing more than single words)
The main findings of the study was that dopamine D2 binding potential (D2BP) receptor density in thalamus correlated negatively with divergent thinking and creativity scores. Here is how the authors interpret the results:
Based on the current findings, we suggest that a lower D2BP in the thalamus may be one factor that facilitates performance on divergent thinking tasks. The thalamus contains the highest levels of dopamine D2 receptors out of all extrastriatal brain regions , . Decreased D2BP in the thalamus has been suggested, firstly, to lower thalamic gating thresholds, resulting in decreased filtering and autoregulation of information flow  and, secondly, to increase excitation of cortical regions through decreased inhibition of prefrontal pyramidal neurons , , . The decreased prefrontal signal-to-noise ratio may place networks of cortical neurons in a more labile state, allowing them to more easily switch between representations and process multiple stimuli across a wider association range . This state, which we hereforth will refer to as the “creative bias”, could benefit performance on tasks that involve continuous generation and (re-)combination of mental representations and switching between mind-sets. The creative bias could also explain why the different measures of divergent task performance correlate: A decreased signal-to-noise ratio in thalamus would decrease information gating and possibly increase fluency; decreased signal-to-noise ratio in cortical regions should better enable flexibility and switching between representations; similarly, the associative range should be widened and selectivity should be decreased which might spur originality and elaboration.
Besides carrying benefits related to fluency and switching, the decreased signal-to-noise ratio associated with the creative bias should be disadvantageous in relation to tasks that require high levels of selective attention. Some support for this prediction can be taken from Dorfman  who showed that the greater a person’s divergent thinking scores, the slower his or her reaction times were on a negative priming task requiring the inhibition of interfering information. Furthermore, the creative bias may also bring a risk of excessive excitatory signals from the thalamus overwhelming cortical neurotransmission, with ensuing cognitive disorganization and positive symptoms . It is thus tempting to suggest that dopaminergic modulation of neurotransmission mediated through dopamine D2-receptors could be one of the mechanisms which associate creativity with positive psychotic symptoms. Interestingly, positive symptoms are not necessarily related to problems in executive function, at least not to the same extent as negative symptoms , which indicates that in the creative individual “blind variation” might be affected without a concomitant decline in “selective retention”. It can be speculated that aberrant thalamic function may promote unusual associations, as well as improved performance on divergent thinking tests in healthy individuals, in the absence of the detrimental effects typically associated with psychiatric disorders. In other words, thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box.
In plain English speak, the same decreased signal-to-noise ratio in perfrontal regions that gives rise to creativity also gives rise to proneness to psychosis. The more the noise that is introduced the greater the chances that the ideas generated by ‘blind variation’ are more creative; if the ‘selective retention’ procedure is also defective or loosened to an extent, it may result in psychopathology and psychosis, while if intact it leads to creativity. Thus while one factor , that of loosening of associations, flexibility and set switching is common to both psychosis and creativity, the defects in selective retention may be the crucial factor that distinguishes brains from bonkers.
de Manzano, ?., Cervenka, S., Karabanov, A., Farde, L., & Ullén, F. (2010). Thinking Outside a Less Intact Box: Thalamic Dopamine D2 Receptor Densities Are Negatively Related to Psychometric Creativity in Healthy Individuals PLoS ONE, 5 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010670