15 Myths About Creativity
New research separates facts about creativity from fiction.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | July 29, 2021
A new study published in Personality and Individual Differences attempts to set the record straight on what creativity is and what it is not.
"Myths about creativity keep contributing to its mysterious aura despite our increasing scientific understanding of this complex phenomenon," say authors of the research led by Mathias Benedek of the University of Graz in Austria.
This study examined the prevalence of known creativity myths across six countries from diverse cultural backgrounds and explored why some people believe in them more than others. Results revealed persistent, widespread biases in the public conception of creativity, such as attributing creative achievements to spontaneity and chance rather than persistence and expertise.
To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers looked through the existing scientific literature to identify 15 creativity falsehoods, which they divided into four categories, shown below.
Creative Definition Myths
- Creativity cannot be measured
- Creativity is essentially the same as art
- Creative ideas are naturally a good thing
- Most people would not be able to distinguish abstract art from abstract children's drawings
Creative Process Myths
- Creative accomplishments are usually the result of a sudden inspiration
- Creative thinking mostly happens in the right hemisphere of the brain
- Creativity tends to be a solitary activity
Creative Person Myths
- Creativity is a rare gift
- People have a certain amount of creativity and cannot do much to change it
- Children are more creative than adults
- Mental health disorders usually accompany exceptional creativity
Creative Stimulation Myths
- People get more creative ideas under the influence of alcohol or marijuana
- Long-term schooling harms the creativity of children
- Brainstorming in a group generates more ideas than if people were thinking by themselves
- One is most creative when with total freedom in one's actions
The scientists recruited 1417 people from six countries to indicate whether they believed the 15 falsehoods were true or false. They found that creativity myths were judged to be accurate by approximately half of the people surveyed.
The researchers state, "The highest approval was observed for 'Brainstorming in groups generates more ideas than if people were thinking alone' (80% agreement). People further substantially endorsed that 'One is most creative when with total freedom in one's actions' (70%), 'Children are more creative than adults' (68%), and 'Most people would not be able to distinguish abstract art from abstract children's drawings' (63%).
Alternatively, people were most likely to disagree with the notion that 'People have a certain amount of creativity and cannot do much to change it' (20% agreement) and that 'Creativity tends to be a solitary activity' (25%).
The researchers also found some interesting country-by-country differences. For instance, respondents in the United States were most likely to endorse the myth that 'Creative ideas are naturally a good thing' and that 'Creativity cannot be measured.' On the other hand, Chinese respondents were most likely to endorse the notion that 'Creativity is essentially the same thing as art.'
The authors hope their work dispels some of the popular misconceptions about creativity.
"A 'naivety' conceptualization of creativity is problematic for two reasons," say the authors. "First, relating creativity to childlike behavior and chance implies low appreciation for the hard work behind creative achievements. Second, it externalizes relevant factors in the development of creativity. Emphasizing the role of inspiration rather than active engagement may undermine creativity by suggesting we need to wait until creativity hits us with a 'Eureka'-experience."