Is Creativity more like IQ or Expertise?

IQ, whatever its flaws, appears to be a general factor, that is, if you do well on one kind of IQ test you will tend to do well on another, quite different, kind of IQ test. IQ also correlates well with many and varied real world outcomes. But what about creativity? Is creativity general like IQ? Or is creativity more like expertise; a person can be an expert in one field, for example, but not in another.

In a short piece in The Creativity Post, cognitive Psychologist Rober Baer argues that creativity is domain-specific:

Efforts to assess creativity have been plagued by supposedly domain-general divergent-thinking tests like the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, although even Torrance knew they were measuring domain-specific skills. (He create two different versions of the test, one that used verbal tasks and another that used visual tasks. He found that scores on the two tests were unrelated —they had a correlation of just .06—so they could not be measuring a single skill or set of skills. They were—and still are—measuring two entirely different things.) Because these tests have been used in so many psychological studies of creativity, much of what we think we know about creativity may be based on invalid data. These tests have also been widely used in selection for gifted/talented programs — programs that have, in turn, often suffered because by assuming creativity was domain general, these programs often wasted students’ time with supposedly content-free divergent thinking exercises (like brainstorming unusual uses for bricks) that really only develop divergent-thinking skill in limited domains.

The metaphor we use for understanding creativity will impact how we train for creativity:

If one’s goal is to enhance creativity in many domains, then creativity-training exercises need to come from a wide variety of domains—just as we must provide a broad general education if we want students to acquire modest levels of expertise in many areas. But if one’s goal is to increase creativity in just one domain, such as one might want to do in a gifted program focusing on one domain (such as a program in dance, poetry, math, etc)., then it would be appropriate for all of the creativity-training exercises to come from the particular domain of special interest.

Baer’s view is controversial. My inclination is to think that creativity does have a significant general aspect because creativity seems so often to involve combining seemingly disparate ideas. My suspicion is that that there is a neurological basis for this in, to put it crudely, right-brain, left-brain communication channels. The fact that creativity can be stimulated by drugs and travel also suggests to me a general aspect. No one ever says, if you want to master calculus take a “trip” but this does work if you are blocked on some types of creative projects.

Nevertheless, Baer’s view is worth thinking about; he gives more detail to his argument in two academic papers here and here.


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