Fyodorov’s musings on creative intelligence once again inspired my blog post this week, particularly his line, “Some people are born to make great art and others are born to appreciate it.” As someone with a dismally low level of artistic creativity but a great appreciation for art, I agree with Fyodorov on a personal level, but I wanted to investigate whether his assertion is true on a more general scale. Are some people born with a natural proclivity for creating art while others are left to observe?
One component that has been thought to correlate with creative intelligence is visual-spatial divergent thinking, the brain’s method of developing several different solutions to a single problem using holistic mental models. This contrasts with convergent thinking, which involves arriving at a single solution by focusing on the details or sequence of a problem (Guilford 138, 171). While a person’s ability to think divergently is tied to their overall intelligence, it is not typically measured in intelligence tests, which may explain why some of the Nobel Prize winners I learned about in my last post did not meet the IQ threshold to be considered geniuses. In past decades, psychologists theorized that creative geniuses would need to have a strong connection between the two hemispheres of their brains in order to convert the divergent thinking of the right hemisphere with the creative output of the left (Bogen). In a 2009 study conducted at Cornell University, researchers contradicted this theory by measuring a person’s ability to think divergently using the figural portion of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (in which participants must combine given lines and shapes to form a model) and analyzing the relative size and activity of the participants’ brains using magnetic resonance imaging (Moore 268). The researchers found a strong negative correlation between a person’s score on the TTCT test and the size of the corpus callosum, a band of never fibers that unite the left and right hemispheres. This suggests that the greater the separation of thinking between the two hemispheres, the better each is allowed to develop ideas involved in divergent thinking, and thus creative pursuits (Moore 271).
Other studies have linked creative intelligence to one’s genetic code, suggesting that one’s ability to create art could be hereditary. Researchers at the University of Helsinki looked at what they call copy number variations, which are basically deletion or duplication mutations in a person’s genetic code, within families and non-related individuals. Each participant was administered three separate tests that measured their “music aptitude,” including their abilities to assess the pitch and timing in music and their capacity for composing, improvising, and arranging music. The team observed that the copy number variations or mutations that correlate with brain plasticity (the capability to sever connections between brain cells and form new ones) had higher levels of music aptitude as well as people with duplication mutations in the genes that affect the production of serotonin. Within the study, the researchers found that these mutations were highly heritable among the families they tested, which indicates that the biological assets that lead to musical creativity are inherited (Ukkola). This study’s discovery about brain plasticity recalls Roberta E. Ness’s book Genius Unmasked that I sited in last week’s blog post in which she notes that the creative processes of geniuses like Albert Einstein are largely dependent on the ability to break from frames of reference and create new models that better help them understand complex, intangible ideas.
There is clearly some link between our genes and our level of creativity, but does that mean that we are either born with artistic ability or not? Much of the research on the subject focuses on the neuropsychological aspect, but are there non-biological factors that contribute to the development of creative intelligence? Coming back to the gender roles that seem to pervade scholarship on intelligence, E. Paul Torrance, who actually designed the creativity tests used in the aforementioned Cornell study, claims that boys become “increasingly superior” in creative intelligence to girls in the early elementary school years. He believes the difference can be attributed to the fact that creative males are rewarded for their ideas by their teachers more often and consider their creative contributions to be more valuable than girls do (Torrance 178). Motivation does seem to be an important factor in developing creativity as evidenced by a study in which researchers took students who scored very low on creativity tests and placed them in response groups. One group of students was given verbal reinforcement for their remarks during the session, while the other group was not. Asked to give responses to a set of questions at the beginning and end of the study, the students who had received positive verbal reinforcement for their creativity in the sessions improved the creativity of their responses far more than students with no reinforcement (Griffith 229-230). This study suggests that children who grow up in households in which their parents support their creative endeavors would be more likely to demonstrate creative intelligence later in life, so perhaps creativity can be attributed to more than just our genes.
As I was researching this week, I found connections between many of the sources I explored for this blog post and the one I wrote last week. One observation that I found particularly interesting is that people with high creative intelligence are more likely to have mutations that affect their production of serotonin, a hormone that also happens to be related to a number of psychological disorders. Could this be the link that leads to the so-called “tortured intellectual” phenomena that affected such creative thinkers as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Edgar Allen Poe? Or do people with mental illness happen to use creative outlets as a means of therapy? I think that the relationship between intelligence and mental illness is a topic I want to pursue in my research, and I would particularly like to look at it from a literary perspective, perhaps applying psychological research to famous authors or creative genius characters in fiction.
Bogen, J. E., and G. M. Bogen. “Creativity and the Corpus Callosum.” The Psychiatric Clinics of North America 11.3 (1988): 293–301. Print.
Griffith, Dan R., and Philip M. Clark. “Motivation, Intelligence, and Creative Behavior in Elementary School Children of Low-Creative Ability.” The Journal of Experimental Education 49.4 (1981): 229–234. Print.
Guilford, Joy Paul. The Nature of Human Intelligence. McGraw-Hill, 1967. Print.
Moore, Dana, and Rafeeque A. Bhadelia. “Hemispheric Connectivity and the Visual-Spatial Divergent-Thinking Component of Creativity.” Carl E. Fulwiler 70.3 (2009): Web.
Ukkola-Vuoti, Liisa et al. “Genome-Wide Copy Number Variation Analysis in Extended Families and Unrelated Individuals Characterized for Musical Aptitude and Creativity in Music.” PLoS ONE 8.2 (2013): PubMed Central. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.