Cognitive Science and the Study of Creativity

In today's world, creativity is highly valued in many areas of life, including art, science, technology, and business. Many people believe that creativity is an inborn trait--either you have it or you don't--but recent research in cognitive science suggests that creativity is actually a complex set of mental processes that can be studied and developed.

The Creative Process

Before we get into the research on creativity, it's helpful to define what we mean by "creativity." Most definitions agree that creativity involves the generation of novel and useful ideas or products. In other words, creativity is about coming up with something new and valuable.

The creative process can be broken down into several stages:

  • Preparation: Gathering information, brainstorming ideas, and choosing a problem to solve.
  • Incubation: Letting the problem simmer in your subconscious, taking a break from conscious thinking.
  • Illumination: The "aha!" moment when a solution comes to you.
  • Verification: Testing and refining the solution to make sure it works.

Researchers in cognitive science are especially interested in the incubation stage, as it seems to be the most mysterious and difficult to study. However, by using brain imaging techniques and studying the thought processes of creative people, cognitive scientists have begun to unravel the secrets of creativity.

Brainstorming and Brainstorming Techniques

One of the most widely used techniques for generating creative ideas is brainstorming. Brainstorming involves coming up with as many ideas as possible, without censoring or evaluating them, in a short period of time. The goal is to get as many ideas as possible out on the table, even if they seem silly or unrealistic.

Research has shown that brainstorming can be effective, but only if it is done in the right way. For example, brainstorming sessions with a diverse group of people tend to be more successful than sessions with a homogenous group. This is because people with different backgrounds and perspectives can bring new ideas and approaches to the problem.

Another key factor in successful brainstorming is the environment. People tend to be more creative when they are in a relaxed and comfortable setting, with plenty of time and space to think. Having access to materials like paper, markers, and sticky notes can also be helpful for visual brainstorming.

Creativity and the Brain

So, what happens in the brain when we are being creative? Studies have shown that when people are engaged in creative tasks, there is increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, as well as in other areas of the brain that are involved in vision, attention, and memory.

Interestingly, research has also shown that people who are more creative tend to have different brain structures and patterns of neural activity than less creative individuals. For example, some studies have found that people who are highly creative have more connections between the left and right hemispheres of their brain, which may allow them to bring together seemingly unrelated ideas.

Developing Your Creativity

If you want to become more creative, there are several strategies that you can try:

  • Practice brainstorming: Set aside time each day to come up with new and unusual ideas. Write them down, even if they seem impractical or silly.
  • Expose yourself to new experiences: Seek out new and challenging experiences, like travelling to a new place or trying a new hobby. These experiences can help to expand your perspective and give you new ideas to work with.
  • Boost your mood: Research has shown that people are more creative when they are in a positive mood. Listen to music, exercise, or spend time with loved ones to boost your mood and enhance your creativity.
  • Collaborate with others: Working with others can help you to see things from different perspectives and generate new ideas. Try to collaborate with people who have different strengths and backgrounds than you do.

Creativity in the Workplace

Creativity is important in many industries, including advertising, technology, and design. However, many workplaces are not set up to foster creativity. A recent study found that only 25% of workers feel that they have the time to be creative at work.

So, what can employers do to encourage creativity in the workplace? Some strategies include:

  • Create a positive work environment: Provide employees with access to natural light, comfortable seating, and other amenities that can boost mood and creativity.
  • Allow for flexible work arrangements: Some people are more creative when they have the ability to work from home or have flexible hours. Offering these options can help to enhance creativity.
  • Encourage collaboration: Create opportunities for employees to work together, share ideas, and give and receive feedback. This can help to generate new ideas and approaches to problems.
  • Provide training and resources: Offer workshops, classes, or other training opportunities that can help employees to develop their creative skills.


Cognitive science has shed new light on the complex mental processes involved in creativity. By understanding the stages of the creative process, as well as the brain mechanisms that underlie creativity, we can begin to develop strategies for enhancing our own creative abilities. Whether you are an artist, scientist, or business person, creativity is a valuable skill that can open up new possibilities and opportunities in your life and work.