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What is Creativity?

What is Creativity? Find out more about creativity.
© CQUniversity 2021

If we agree that creativity requires originality and usefulness, who gets to say what is original and/or useful?

When we ask this question, it becomes clear that creativity is shaped by many different factors, including temporal (when it takes place), social, cultural, or even personal factors. We need to make it clear that something that is original should be original in the context from which it is emerging or for the person doing it. A child’s creative construction, such as a pillow fort, may not be a very creative idea for an older person who won’t want to spend time playing in the fort.

Abraham’s definition (2019) acknowledges that despite the agreement, creativity is still not something that can be easily studied and explained. We currently only have a small number of tools that can measure some aspects of creativity. Another problem she identifies is that it is difficult to prompt creativity. This makes it difficult to study the brain’s processes when it is being creative (as opposed to trying to be creative). Instead, neuroscience usually studies people engaging in one element of the creative process and asks what is happening within the brain during that process or step.

What Abraham identifies that we do know from research in neuroscience, is that when a person is creative, our brain operated in an ‘integrative and dynamic manner’.

It means that it is not just one part of the brain that is the creative part. However, certain creative activities, such as metaphor processing, is predominantly happening in one part of the brain (in this case, the lateral inferior frontal gyrus, yes, that’s a real part of the brain).

We will not focus on the different parts of the brain here, or learn about brain scans specifically, but it is important to recognise that this makes creativity different compared to some skills or experiences that can be directly related to one part of the brain.

an MRI representation of the brain whilst playing music

The above image tells us that if creativity requires some originality, then we need the brain to be able to combine or rearrange different insights or knowledges, since this is required to form more and new associations, which will potentially lead to more creative ideas.

Neuroscience can illuminate how the brain does this and if we can understand that part, we can better help our own and other brains to be more creative. Whether you’re an educator, a leader or both, you can become better at understanding ‘the creative process’ and what lies behind it.

Stick around, all of this will be explored as we move through the course.

You can read more about Abraham’s work in her book ‘The Neuroscience of Creativity’ (2018).


Abraham, A (2019) link.
Abraham, A (2018) ‘The Neuroscience of Creativity’
© CQUniversity 2021
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