Cognitive Theories of Creativity

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The other group of theories that includes intellectual abilities as a key component is the set of cognitive theories of creativity. Guilford, as discussed earlier, pioneered these ideas, and his convergent versus divergent thinking dichotomy is still a key idea in creativity. Even before Guilford, however, Wallas proposed a model of the cognitive creative process. According to his five-stage model, you first use preparation to begin work on a problem. Next, there is incubation, in which you may work on other things while your mind thinks about the problem. In intimation, you realize you are about to have a breakthrough (this phase is sometimes dropped from the model), and then you actually have the insight in the illumination phase. Finally, with verification, you actually test, develop, and use your ideas.

More recently, the Geneplore model has two phases, generative and explorative, that are comparable to Guilford's convergent and divergent thinking distinction. In the generative phase, someone constructs a preinventive structure, or a mental representation of a possible creative solution. For example, Elias Howe was working on his invention of the modern sewing machine. He could not quite get the needle correctly designed. Howe had an odd dream in which he was chased by savages who threw spears at him. The spears had a circle loop at the end - and Howe realized that adding the circle (or an 'eye') to the end of the needle was the solution he needed. The image of a spear with a circle at the end - the image that preceded Howe's insight - would be an example of one of these preinventive structures. They do not need to be as dramatic or sudden as the realization based on Howe's dream. Indeed, the generation of preinventive structures is only one part of the creative process, according to the Geneplore model. The thinker must then explore these different preinventive structures within the constraints of the final goal. There may be several cycles before a creative work is produced.

Although the model focuses on the creative process, most tests of the model have actually measured the creative product. In an experiment testing the model, people were shown parts of objects (such as a circle or a cube). They were then asked to combine these parts together to produce a practical object or device. The creativity (and practicality) of the items was then assessed. Interestingly, people produced more creative objects when they were told which parts had to be combined than when they could pick the parts to be combined.

Other theories have also focused on cognitive-oriented components of the creative process. Michael Mumford and his colleagues have argued for an eight-part model, focusing on problem construction, information encoding, category selection, category combination and reorganization, idea generation, idea evaluation, implementation planning, and solution monitoring. Mednick proposed the idea that creativity occurs when different elements are associated together to form new combinations. Creative individuals are assumed to be able to make meaningful, useful associations between disparate concepts and ideas to a greater extent that a relatively uncreative individual. The Remote Associates Test was developed based on this idea.

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