Archivo de la etiqueta: creativity theories

Theories of creativity and classic explanatory models

Extracted from Aguilera-Luque (2016)

How do I cite this text?

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

Translate Since the middle of the 20th century, various theories of creativity and models have tried to explain this human phenomenon. To date, a sufficiently integrating theory has not been found, so several coexist that are understood to be equally valid.

This article addresses some of the most notable ones, from personalistic or individual-centered models to interactionist models, which focus on the person’s interaction with their environment.

Theories of creativity centered on the individual

Intelligence threshold theory

Torrance (1962) argues that intelligence is a necessary but not sufficient condition for creativity from the study of individual traits.

According to the threshold theory, a certain level of intelligence is required for creativity to emerge. However, above a certain level, which is usually set at an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 120, no positive correlation has been found between the two constructs.

Therefore, genius understood as a high IQ, does not guarantee greater creativity than average intelligence. A discordant work with this theory is, among others, that of Runco and Albert (1986).

umbral de creatividad

Evolutionary theory of creativity

Campbell (1960) proposes a model of creativity based on Darwin‘s theory of evolution and its explanatory mechanism of natural selection.

Evolution and natural selection

According to Darwin, species change randomly in their phylogenetic development due to genetic mutation through a blind process directed neither by intelligence nor by will. Some of these changes are beneficial for the organism in terms of survival and reproduction and, therefore, adaptability.

Organisms that have undergone such mutations are more likely to transmit the new traits to the next generation genetically. In this way, it is considered that these fortuitous changes have been selected by nature, producing the evolution of said species towards a new stage.

Evolution and creativity

Campbell’s theory follows a similar process to the previous one to explain creative production. The creation process would begin by generating ideas, blindly or randomly, to solve a specific problem.

Campbell argues that if creativity is required to solve a situation, the past must first be rejected as a basis for building new knowledge. If such a break with past knowledge does not occur, he thinks that any proposal will not be truly creative.

After this blind or random production, the subject will go to an evaluation phase to determine if the proposal meets his needs. Once the new idea is accepted, it will be retained to be used in later similar situations, establishing parallelism between the evolution of ideas and the evolution of species by natural selection (Weisberg, 2006).


Theory of divergent thinking

Within cognitive psychology, Guilford (1967) proposes a type of thinking for creativity that is distinguished from the thought generally associated with intelligence measured by IQ or divergent thinking. It is thinking suitable for solving open or multiple-choice problems.

Divergent thinking in the Intellect Model

In his Intellect Model, Guilford included 24 items aimed at measuring such divergent thinking. Along the same lines, authors such as Torrance (1972) also incorporated divergent thinking in their explanatory models of creativity.

Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Also, with a cognitive approach, Howard Gardner (1983) understands intelligence as a multidimensional construct made up of various types of intelligence. He proposed seven different intelligences in his first model and added one more. Even today, Gardner continues to investigate the existence of other additional types of intelligence. Furthermore, he argues that intelligence and creativity are not separate entities.

Multiple creativities

According to Gardner, creativity is multiple as intelligence is (Gardner, 1993). He argues that creativity tests fail to assume that good performance in divergent thinking tasks, generally trivial, can predict future creative behaviors in any other field (Gardner, 1983).

Creativity and motivation

Gardner says that creativity rests on a kind of Faustian deal, whereby the person renounces the easy and pleasant to achieve a specific goal. In this way, this author endows creativity with a motivating character to achieve goals.

Asociacionismo y creatividad

The associative theory

Associationism is an initially philosophical theory, with authors such as John Locke and David Hume. They affirmed that the mental process operates by associating a state with the successor states.

According to this theory, the laws governing thought are resemblancecontiguity in time and place, and causation. These laws apply to any mental process and, thanks to them, ideas are associated in mind. For associationists, the mind does not create from anything, but something is always produced by new combinations of what is already stored.

The associative theory explains creative thinking as a process by which disparate elements are brought together in new combinations to make a helpful proposal. Allowing a broad search process, which can generate various associations, facilitates creativity.

Creativity for Mednick

The principal author of the associative stream is Mednick (1962). According to this author, the combination of the most remote elements is understood as more creative than the combination of the most similar or close elements, conceptually speaking.

He understands that a person can produce creative solutions through one of the following three processes: serendipity, similarity, and meditation. Serendipity would be a process of accidental association; the similarity would be by evocation between two elements, and meditation would produce evocation when three or more elements are presented.

His theory is operationalized in the Remote Associates Test (RAT), widely used in research on creative thinking. Current research and views on creativity continue to consider the study of the association process and its importance for generating creative ideas (Russ & Dillon, 2011).

Theories of creativity and interactionist models

This paradigm proposes that creativity is manifested or inhibited when there is the convergence and interaction of different dimensions.

Interactionist models are usually framed in the field of social cognition since the context influences behavior through the perception and interpretation that the individual makes of it (Lewin, 1951), as well as by how the physical, imagined, or implicit presence of other individuals influences our processes of cognition (Allport, 1954).

Attribution Theory applied to creativity study brings personalist models closer to interactionist models, understanding that man forms a whole with the environment surrounding him. Thus, Joseph Kasof (1995) proposes a vision of creativity as a social construction since creativity makes sense in a specific cultural environment and time.

Among the most influential integrative models are:

  • Simonton’s evolutionary model,
  • Amabile’s componential model,
  • the systemic model of Csikzentmihályi,
  • Sternberg and Lubart’s inversion theory,
  • the biopsychosocial model of Dacey and Lennon and
  • Sawyer’s sociocultural model.

Evolutionary model

Simonton (1989) proposes his theory, Chance-Configuration, starting from Campbell’s (1960) proposal and with clear Darwinian influences.

In this theory, Simonton presents a series of adaptations to the process of generation and evolution of ideas by natural selection through blind variation and selective retention, by incorporating cognitive elements, personality traits, and environmental influences, achieving a greater explanatory scope than their predecessors.

Modelo de componentes de Amabile

Componential model

With the Componential Model, Amabile (1983) assumes an influence of the environment in the three components that this author proposes for creativity: domain-relevant skills, creativity-relevant processes, and intrinsic task motivation.

Creativity-relevant processes is a cognitive style that implies the ability to work with complexity, change of mental attitude when working on a problem, strategies to generate multiple ideas, a work style in which effort and concentration predominate, the ability to put problems aside, and high energy.

Amabile (1990; 1996) highlights the importance of motivation over the other components of her model, endowing it with a compensatory capacity in case of absence or weakness of the other components. She claims that motivation makes the difference between what an individual can do and what he/she does (Amabile, 1990).

The fundamental role that she gives to intrinsic motivation has to do with the relevance that his model gives to the situation, the possibility of intervening on external restrictions that act on motivation, and the possibility of social facilitation and creativity training.

In his study, Amabile presents different works that show the social effects of inhibition and modeling of creativity. She specifically argues that:

  1. Creative performance can be inhibited when other members are present in an assessment of the individual’s ability.
  2. Exposure to models of creativity can have a positive impact on the early achievement of creativity.
  3. Models can improve a person’s performance on a creativity test, but only if the modeled behavior is similar to the assessed performance.
Modelos de creatividad: sistémico

Systemic Model

This model understands creativity as the result of the interactions between the three elements of the proposed system: the domain, the field, and the person. Those interactions will determine whether a contribution will be creative or not (Csikszentmihályi, 1999).

The domain

The domain represents “the parameters of a system of cultural symbols” (Csikszentmihályi, 1990, p. 190) within a certain area of creativity. That is, “the set of rules and vocabulary with a grammar and a syntax” (p. 200) that will change in each area of knowledge.

The field

It is the set of individuals who know the grammatical rules of a domain and share a specific use and interpretation of them, although they do not have to be shared by other members of the same domain. It would be the case of two theoretical currents within the same branch of knowledge, in which domain is shared but not field.

According to Csikszentmihályi, the individual is incorporated into a kind of cycle in which the domain transmits information to the person, producing some variation that the field could select. The field, in turn, will transmit the selected variations to the domain, finally modifying it in a continuous cycle (Mumford, 2012).

Teoría de la inversión en creatividad

Investment theory

Sternberg Lubart (1991; 1995) propose a psycho-economic model in which creativity is understood as an investment. According to these authors, creative people, like good investors, “buy low and sell high” (Sternberg and Lubart, 1991, p. 2), referring to a sale located in the field of ideas.

Economist vision of creativity

Creative individuals generate poorly accepted ideas but will try to convince other people of the value of their ideas, then sell them dearly while looking for new unpopular ideas to sell. According to Sternberg and Lubart (1995), to buy ideas low and sell high, the creative individual has to:

  1. generate options not thought of by others, recognize and discriminate the good options from those that are not;
  2. know the progress in the field and identify gaps;
  3. think and act creatively, enjoy doing it, go against the stream and have the ability to see the whole and the details;
  4. willingness to take risks and overcome obstacles;
  5. push to action;
  6. have a favorable environment and circumstances. 

This list corresponds to the six elements, sources, or resources that converge to form creativity: intelligence, knowledge, thinking style, personality, motivation, and circumstances (Sternberg and Lubart, 1991; 1995). With this configuration, the authors propose the following definition of creativity:

Creativity involves the application of these processing components to new types of tasks or situations, or the application of these components to familiar tasks or situations in a novel way, to adapt, select, or more importantly, of configuring the environment (Sternberg and Lubart, 1991, p. 7).

The investment model assumes that creativity is not just the result of adding resources but establish:

  • There are thresholds for certain components below which creativity is not possible;
  • There may be a partial compensation whereby if one component is high (e.g., motivation), it can compensate for the weakness of another (e.g., environment)
  • There may be an interaction between the various components. For example, high levels of intelligence and motivation would exert a multiplicative influence on the level of creativity.
Modelo biopsicosocial. Teorías de la creatividad

The biopsychosocial model

This model is born from the biopsychosocial conception of behavior, from which it is understood that any act emerges from the complex interaction of three factors; biological, psychological, and social. Dacey y Lennon (1998) propose a bidirectional model of five layers that interact with each other and with a sixth factor, time, affecting each other through the whole.

The socio-cultural model

Sawyer (2006) argues that in the last two decades, the study of creativity has been focusing on a socio-cultural and interdisciplinary approach that would explain the creative performance of the person within its context. With this statement, he introduces the socio-cultural theory and his proposal for a new science: the science of human innovation.

Keith Sawyer
R. Keith Sawyer

Sawyer proposes not only a socio-cultural vision of creativity but also of the study of the question itself. He affirms that one of the mistakes that have been made when trying to explain creativity is having done it from an exclusively psychological perspective since creativity must be a multidisciplinary subject of study. According to the author, this was the reason for the emergence of the socio-cultural approach to the study of creativity in the early 1980s. This multidisciplinary paradigm integrates specialists who have discovered that “explaining creativity requires not only individual understanding inspiration, but also social factors such as collaboration, support networks, education, and cultural baggage” (Sawyer, 2006, p. 4).


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. DOI10.13140/RG.2.2.16524.21122

Allport, G. W. (1937). Personality: A psychological interpretation. New York: Rinehart & Winston.

Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Reading, M.A.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.

Amabile, M. T. (1983). The social psychology of creativity. Journal Od Personality and Social Psychology, 45(2), 357–376.

Amabile, M. T. (1988). A model of creativity and innovation in organizations. In B. M. Staw & L. L. Cummings (Eds)., Research in organizational behavior. Vol. 10 (pp. 123–167).

Amabile, M. T. (1996). Creativity in context. Boulder, CO: : Westview.

Campbell, D. T. (1960). Blind variation and selective retention in creative thought as in orther knowledge processes. Psychological Review, 67, 380–400.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). The psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1999). Implications of a Systems Perspective for the Study of Creativity. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed)., Handbook of Creativity (pp. 313–335). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Dacey, J. S., & Lennon, K. H. (1998). Understanding creativity. The interplay of biological, psychological and social factors. (1st ed).. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basisc Books, NY.

Gardner, H. (1993). Creating minds. New York: Basic Books, Inc.

Guilford, J. P. (1967). The nature of human intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kasof, J. (1995). Attribution and creativity. In Encyclopedia of Creativity (vol. I) (pp. 147–156). San Diego: Academic Press.

Lewin, K. (1951). Field theories in social science. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Mednick, S. (1962). The associative basis of the creative process. Psychological Review, 69(3), 220–232.

Mumford, M. D. (2012). Handbook of organizational creativity. San Diego: Elsevier.

Runco, M. A., & Albert, R. S. (1986). The threshold theory regarding creativity and intelligence: an empirical test with gifted and nongifted children. Creative Child and Adult Quarterly, 11(4), 212–218.

Russ, S. W., & Dillon, J. A. (2011). Associative Theory. In Encyclopedia of Creativity (pp. 66–71). London: Elsevier.

Sawyer, R. K. (2006). Explain Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation. (I. Oxford University Press, Ed).. New York.

Simonton, D. K. (1989). Chance-configuration theory of scientific creativity. In B. Gholson, W. R. Shadish, R. A. Neimeyer, & A. C. Houts (Eds)., The psychology of science: Contributions to metascience (pp. 170–213). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. J., & Lubart, T. (1991). An Investment Theory of Creativity and Its Development. Human Development, 34(1), 1–31.

Sternberg, R. J., & Lubart, T. (1995). Defying the crowd: Cultivating creativity in a culture of conformigy. New York: The Free Press.

Torrance, E. P. (1962). Non-test ways of identifying the creatively gifted. Gifted Child Quarterly, 6(3), 71–75.

Torrance, E. P. (1972). Predictive validity of the Torrance Test od Creative Thinking. Journal of Creative Behavior, 6(4), 236–252.