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Towards a Unified Understanding of Creativity

Learn more about creativity and how it applies in neuroscience.
people working in a creative studio

In this article, you will learn how creativity relates to the field of neuroscience and also apply these principles to real-life scenarios.

It is tempting to think, or maybe hope, that neuroscience will explain everything about creativity. It would be great if it could, but for now, this is not the case. In a recent peer-reviewed article that reviews six recent textbooks about the neuroscience of creativity, the author explains:

It is worth pointing out that no unified paradigm or framework has yet emerged to tame creativity in purely neuroscientific terms, and book-length discussions of these topics remain refreshingly unalike’ (Kozbelt, 2019)
In other words, despite the progress in neuroscience and our understanding of cognitive processes, we are not able to say this is what happens when you are creative. Creativity, or creative thinking, is too complex and involves too many different regions of the brain, different networks, and many different mental processes.
Creativity cannot be reduced to one activity or one discreet part of the brain (it was common in the past to think that the right brain is the creative side, but this is not how creativity is understood by neuroscientists today).
One approach forward is to adopt a process approach. This means that creativity is understood to happen when ‘several cognitive operations work in unison’ (Abraham 2014) and if we can understand the process (and identify the steps), it is easier to be more intentional about our activities and it can help us to understand what we can teach others.
Abraham explores how it is possible to focus on how creative and non-creative (normative) cognition work together to create ideas. Creativity requires both creative cognition or thinking (to come up with ideas) and normative or more critical thinking (to test ideas).
Understanding how these cognitive processes are prompted can help us select the right type of cognition, at the right time:
‘The contexts or problem solving situations that prompt creative cognition (e.g. compose a haiku) are relatively more open-ended, ambiguous, non-linear, abstract and unpredictable compared to those that primarily necessitate normative cognition (e.g. devise a weekly exercise regime.)’

Understanding what neuroscience says about creativity can help us conceptualise creativity in a way that can help us be more creative, or teach others to be more creative (Onarheim and Friis-Olivarius 2013).


Abraham A (2014). Creative thinking as orchestrated by semantic processing vs cognitive control brain networks. Frontiers in human neuroscience. 8. 95. [Link.](
Kozbelt, A (2019) Six recent books on the neuroscience of creativity: notes from the underbelly. Evolutionary studies in imaginative culture, 2019-10-01, (Vol 3(2), p73-82
Onarheim B and Friis-Olivarius M (2013) Applying the neuroscience of creativity to training. Link.
© CQUniversity 2021
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