Antecedents of Adult Creativity

Longitudinal studies of creative individuals have investigated the connections between mature creative production and a range of pre-adult measures of personality, family experiences, interests, and motivation. Most find connections between adult creative productivity and earlier evidence of openness, complexity, autonomy, unconventionality, and originality. Vitality is another commonly studied individual trait found to predict creative accomplishment among adults. The domain in which creativity is expressed makes a difference: connections between early personality traits and adult outcomes vary for scientists, artists, and other types of creative achievers. Most research using personality draws from standard psychological tests such as the California Psychological Inventory (CPI) or the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). An emerging approach is the use of the Five-Factor personality inventory, with particular emphasis on the personality cluster of openness to experience as predictive of creative productivity. The Grant Study of adult development follows subjects' use of psychological adaptation mechanisms as the major personality measure. Developmental assets, such as positive connections with others, high self-esteem, and strong skills, have been found to predict academic achievement, but this promising set of variables has not yet been used in repeated measures studies of creativity.

Mixed results come from the study of creative achievers' families. Some researchers reported that childhood experience of family tension or parental mental illness was associated with later productivity, while others found that highly functional and supportive families produced children with sustained creative achievement. Both the Mills Study and Albert and Runco's exceptional boys study found that parental traits continued to differentiate adult offspring's creative productivity and domain-specific creativity, respectively. The Grant study, in contrast, found no direct effects of family background on adult outcomes, although family experiences undoubtedly played a role in one's adult coping style.

Adolescent and young adult interests and preferences consistently emerge as predictors of mature career choices and creative accomplishments. In a representative Israeli sample, adults whose careers matched their age-18 leisure creative activities were more highly placed and more accomplished professionally than their peers. Mills study researchers found that women's creative activities immediately following college predicted creative achievement in mid-life. Csikszentmihalyi and colleagues reported that gifted teenagers were drawn to intensive immersion in their interest area. More recently, Tai and his colleagues' secondary analysis of a US national longitudinal study (NELS-88) found that high school students who expressed interest in science careers were much more likely to earn college degrees in science fields than classmates with identical course histories and tested ability who lacked such early aspirations. Finally, the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth found that adolescent values and preferences combined with ability and motivation to determine the college majors and career direction of profoundly gifted individuals.

Unsurprisingly, various indicators of motivation emerge across studies as contributing to creative productivity; however, motivation has not been as extensively studied as other antecedent variables. Ambition and high aspirations, characteristic tendencies to persist in a challenging task, seeking of flow states, and willingness to work long hours have all been linked to long-term positive outcomes. The emerging psychological construct of grit refers to the constellation of motivation and persistence variables that captures many of the motivation factors in the literature on creativity. Angela Duckworth demonstrated the explanatory power of this variable in a number of cross-sectional studies of talented populations. In studies of elite music education, Rena Subotnik and Linda Jarvin explored qualitatively the changing role of various psychosocial factors during transitions in the development of competencies, expertise, and artistry. These studies suggest the value of investigating grit and other conative factors as predictors of creative productivity in longitudinal research.

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