Science Solitaire

[Science Solitaire] ‘Uncreativity’ is learned

Maria Isabel Garcia
[Science Solitaire] ‘Uncreativity’ is learned
While 'uncreativity' is learned, it is not too late, even if you think you have lost your innate capacity to be creative

If you are middle-aged like me, you will come to have greeted people and received “Happy Birthday” many times. For some reason, for decades now, I could never greet any of my family or good friends that way. I find that it is too easy and runs short of what it took for that person to reach this part in her/his orbit of life, and they are not just any random human being in my life. So even if it takes a bit more time and effort, I make the time to express my greetings in another way other than by predictive text in messaging. I try to be creative.

To be “creative” is one distinct and singular source of joy I have discovered I should never lose if my one and only life were to be worthwhile. But the older I get, the more painful conversations have become with people around my age or older when it comes to creativity.

You may think that you would have to be born with a creative brain and that if you are not, so be it. If so, this would mean that only some of us are creative at birth. You may also think that you have to have learned it in some school for the arts, away and insulated from the more “controlled” pressures of other disciplines. You may also think that you have to have a job that clearly identifies “creativity” as a requirement. If you think any of these things, you are running against what evidences so far, have revealed about what it means to be “creative.”

So, are only some of us born creative? A remarkable 1968 study by George Land would make you stop and think again before holding that belief. He tested 1,600 children aged around 5 using the same creativity test he designed to choose innovative engineers and scientists to serve NASA. This test was a test on abilities to think about new ways of looking at a problem – on imagination. He tested the same children again at 10 years of age, and then again when they reached 15 years of age. Then he compared it to scores from tests given to adults. The creativity scores that resulted from the tests will upturn your belief that some people are just not born creative:

5 year olds: 98%
10 year olds : 30%
15 year olds: 12%
280,000 adults: 2%

Paraphrasing George Land in his TEDX, it is “uncreativity” that is learned – it is what family, school, experiences could do to you. You have to learn to be “uncreative” since children are largely born creative. He also mentioned “fear” as the great “silencer” of that 5-year-old within you. “Fear” of being embarrassed, being wrong, being ridiculed, mute “creativity.” “Imagination”, which is the mental studio of creativity is the inherent capacity of anyone’s brain. And sadly, most of us lose almost all of it without knowing we had it as much as the one you admire the most when it comes to creativity.

Inside the creative brain, research such as this one has confirmed that there are 3 networks in your brain that are at play when it comes to being creative. One is the “default” network – the one that dreams and imagines; the other is the “executive” network which controls and evaluates an idea to see how it will actually work; and the third is the “salience” network which acts as a switch between the two. Studies have found that a high-level of creativity happens when the default” and “salience” network can be active at the SAME time and not one at a time.

If you think your job has to do with muting your creativity, you may be right because your brain and thought process as “creator” is not the only aspect of creativity. “Environment” plays a main role too. If you work in a field that requires rigidity with an unchanging set of rules and codes, and this is what you mostly do when you are awake, then that will explain why you are not creative. But if you create new experiences for yourself where your imagination is key, that could change. Even George Land said that that part of your brain that imagines never leaves you, you just have to make sure you never leave it.

It is not too late if you think you have lost your innate capacity to be creative. Everyday, spend some time looking at an object and the many ways it can be used for other things other than its obvious purpose. And yes, every time, you have to greet someone special n their special day, figure out how to express it other than texting ‘happy birthday” halfway and letting the app, finish it for you. –

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at

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