cognition & creativity

Creativity from the cognitive psychology

Translate  The study of creativity, understood as an up-level process, has been approached from cognitive psychology and the interactionist or processual approach driven by models of social cognition (Endler, 1993; Endler and Magnusson, 1974; Endler and Parker, 1992) and the Systems Theory (Bertalanffy, 1968).

Starting in the 70s of the 20th century, the concepts of cognition and creativity began to be addressed together. Cognitive Psychology is interested in creativity and from its framework various concepts/constructs have been proposed which are still in force today. Here, some of the most notable are shown:

cognitive constructs

At the research level, cognitive strategies and, specifically, cognitive styles have attracted much attention since a long time ago (Allport, 1937). The processes of attention and perception have also been addressed, as well as those of inference and attribution, and how these are integrated into the two models of information processing (IP) -bottom-up / down-top- (Abelson and Black, 1986; Nisbett and Ross 1980).

Strategies and cognitive styles

Estilos cognitivos

They are personal variables, internally coherent and driving a specific and characteristic direction in the interaction of the individual with his environment (Hettema, 1989).

Through strategies, the person tries to handle the information in the most efficient way (from an adaptive perspective, not a logical one). He/she tries, therefore, to get the most out of the information, optimizing cognitive resources, saving efforts in mental processing.

Strategies are used unconsciously, with greater or lesser success, although the balance is usually quite positive in adaptive terms.

Cognitive styles

As part of these strategies, other constructs have been proposed, like cognitive styles (Allport, 1937) that have been related to behaviors specifically humans such as creativity. Cognitive styles represent how information is processed and stored.

One of the authors who addresses cognitive styles and creativity is Kirton (1976; 1994).  This researcher proposed an evolutionary vision to relate creativity and cognitive styles.

Other cognitive styles that the literature addresses are:

  • Dependence-Independence of field (Witkin y Goodenough 1981),
  • Reflexivity-Impulsivity (Kagan et al., 1964) and
  • Assimilators-Explorers (Kaufmann, 1979).
Kirton’s adaption-innovation Theory


Metacognition is the knowledge that we have about our cognitive phenomenon, that is, the knowledge that the individual has on his/her own knowledge (Flavell, 1970). Metacognition has two components: knowledge and control.

Knowledge is about how our cognitive processes operate. Control is referred to the way in which the individual controls his/her own cognitive operations (Jausovec, 2011).

Metacognition has been related to Creative Problem Solving (CPS).

Divergent thinking

Divergent thinking is a construct from cognitive psychology coined by Guilford (1967).

He stated that this type of thinking is associated with creativity and is contrary to convergent thinking or thinking applied to creative problem solving which can be measured with intelligence quotient (IQ) tests.

Guilford’s work, although not the only one on divergent thinking, does represent the most comprehensive model of this construct (Runco, 1999).

To measure divergence, among the most commonly used indices are flexibility, fluency, and originality of ideas (Guilford, 1967). Flexibility is of great importance and refers to the number of different categories that are handled when producing ideas, fluency indicates the number of ideas, regardless of whether they belong to the same category.

Some authors prefer to see convergence and divergence of thought as a continuum, rather than as a dichotomy (Eysenck, 2003). Others turn their attention to the task and argue that there may not be pure convergent or divergent problems, but that both strategies are necessary to reach a solution.

Divergent thinking is usually homologated to creative thinking and, although are not the same, creative thinking is often measured with divergent tasks tests, and these are not always the most appropriate for this construct.

Creative Problem solving (CPS)

Studies on problem-solving began with the work of Wallas (1926) and his four-phase model:

Wallas Model

On this conceptual basis, Osborn (1957) elaborates a model with which he tries to explain the role of creativity during the process of solving a problem. This process, called Creative Problem Solving (CPS), consists of seven steps.


Osborn’s initial model was later adapted by Parnes, who narrowed it down to just five stages. It is the model known as Osborn-Parnes (1967).

Five-phase CPS model
Adaptado de Osborn y Parnes (1967)

Subsequently, other models of Creative Problem Solving (CPS) have been proposed but, in their essence, they contemplate the same stages.

Several authors suggest that the success of a CPS process will depend on how each of the stages is executed and that the key may be the cognitive and non-cognitive abilities of the solver (Amabile, 1996; Mumford, 2012). In this sense, there may be individuals who favor some phases of CPS over others, depending on the cognitive styles they display (Kirton, 1976).

Attention & perception

A cognitive trait that has been linked to creativity is perceptual richness. Creative individuals have a great openness to diverse experiences and a great tolerance for ambiguity (McCrae, 1987), characteristics that lead them to continually seek novelty and complexity.

A special ability of these people seems to be the dispersion of attention, understood as the tendency to attend simultaneously to more than one stimulus or cognition (Martindale, 1995).


Self-perception or self-efficacy has also been considered important for creativity. This cognitive construct is part of the Cognitive Social Theory and is defined as:

“beliefs in one’s own capacities to organize and execute the courses of action required to obtain certain achievements” (Bandura, 1977, p. 3)

It has been shown that individuals with high self-efficacy have greater persistence in overcoming obstacles and learning from setbacks while increasing their effectiveness as they overcome obstacles (Bandura, 1986).

When the creative styles proposed by Kirton (1976) are related to Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy, it seems that individuals with an innovative style score higher in self-efficacy or creative confidence than adapters (Phelan and Young, 2003).

Attribution & inference

The attributional models derive from the naive psychology proposal of Heider (1958) in which it is indicated how people should think, rationally, to find the causes of the behavior of others. With his theoretical proposal, Heider establishes the foundations of the Attribution Theory and the Balance Theory.

The theory of attribution (read the full entry in this link) can be related to any field that involves judgment, perception, and thought. Thus, in 1995, Joseph Kasof applied it to the study of creativity, proposing that it has both subjective and objective aspects

As objective aspects of creativity, Kasof proposes originality, novelty, and infrequency. These three characteristics are some of the dimensions of many creativity tests.

They have also been applied in the evaluation of product creativity, on many occasions through the use of blind judgment, which seems to make the evaluation process quite reliable. However, Kasof argues that these tests tend to reduce ecological validity and nullify the social point of view when, really, the acceptance of original products is a social construction.

Attribution theories emphasize situational factors, challenging conventional theories of creativity that focus more on dispositional factors. Kasof also explained three basic mechanisms that influence creativity attributions, namely; covariation, salience, and selfish bias.


Adapted and translated from:

Aguilera-Luque, A.M. (2016). Creatividad Organizacional: un Estudio Cuantitativo de la Eficacia de los Programas de Entrenamiento en Creatividad. (Tesis Doctoral). Universidad de Valencia.

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