Why Are Some People More Creative Than Others?

The short answer is, it's complicated. But there are some tangible traits that separate a bank teller from an artist.

A great deal of creativity comes from finding the relationship between two unrelated things and defining the value residing in those connections.

Through our diverse experiences, we can use divergent thinking to piece these connections together and come up with innovative solutions.

But, what is it that makes some people more capable of this than others?

A 2013 study in the Creativity Research Journal helps shed some light on this subject. Researchers Edward Nęckaa and Teresa Hlawaczb wanted to test the effects of temperament and divergent thinking on 60 visual artists and 60 bank officers.

Temperament, in psychology, is thought to be the part of people’s personalities that is innate, rather than learned. This includes traits such as introversion or extroversion.

Divergent thinking, however, is a process in which you’re generating ideas by exploring many solutions—using such tools as freewriting and associative thinking. This is the opposite of convergent thinking, in which you’re taking logical steps to arrive at a conclusion.

So, how does temperament and divergent thinking affect creativity?

As Scott Barry Kaufman reported in his blog on Scientific American, both the bank officers and artists were able to generate ideas through many solutions, but the artists were far better at doing so, reaching top levels of divergent thinking.

What’s more fascinating, though, is that the artists were quite similar to the bankers in their temperament, although a few artists had high scores in both divergent thinking and temperament. Those with the highest scores shared the following temperament traits:

  • Briskness: "Quick responding to stimuli, high tempo of activity, and the ability to switch between actions"

  • Endurance: "An ability to behave efficiently and appropriately in spite of intense external stimulation or regardless of the necessity to pay attention during prolonged periods of time"

  • Activity: "The generalized tendency to initiate numerous activities that lead to, or provoke, rich external stimulation; it is conceived as the basic regulator of the need for stimulation"

For the researchers, the most crucial of these traits was activity.

Postulating that temperament is a foundation for the development and expression of a person’s creative potential, the researchers found that people with a high activity score often use their diverse experiences as an underlying level for divergent thinking and creative activity.

Our experiences, then, are a kind of base from which we can draw our connections and the source from which we can empathize with others.

In this way, creativity isn’t only about outputs, but also inputs—and arranging our inputs by thoughtfully curating our experiences allow us to become more creative.

[Image: Flickr user John McStravick]

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