Creativity can be defined as "the ability and disposition to produce novelty". Children's play and high accomplishments in art, science, and technology are traditionally called creative, although any type of activity or product, whether ideational, physical, or social, can be creative, according to the Encyclopedia of Education (2002).
Authors Stellan Ohlsson and Trina C. Kershaw describe the concept as "being associated with a wide range of behavioural and mental characteristics" and point to biographical studies of exceptionally creative individuals, such as Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), which have uncovered recurring features. Creative individuals are often prolific and typically master a practice or tradition.
Psychometric measures of creativity include Samoff A. Mednick's Remote Associations Test (RAT) which measures how easily a person can link between semantically different concepts, and E. Paul Torrance's Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), which looks at how many different answers to a question a person can provide within a time limit. Critics argue that with these kinds of tests there are no objective criteria for scoring.
Ohlsson and Kershaw explain the theories behind the fact that the human mind can generate novel concepts. Some cognitive psychologists believe that creation is a process of variation and selection, whereby the mind of a creative person spontaneously generates a large number of random combinations of ideas, and a few chosen of these become expressed in behavior. Other theories suggest that a creative person is able to override the constraining influence of past experiences and that creative individuals are more able to break free from "mental ruts".
In Creativity and Development (2003), authors R. Keith Sawyer, Vera John-Steiner, Seana Moran, Robert J Sternberg, David Henry Feldman, Jeanne Nakamura and Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi argue that the key insight into the sheer volume of work on this issue is that development and creativity are both processes. This derives from the approach of Jean Piaget (1896-1980) and the work of other psychologists during the 1950s through to the 1970s and 1980s, which soon spread throughout developmental psychology in the United States.
The propensity for inventive flair is the subject of surveys by psychologists who are investigating the role of creativity in the everyday lives of ordinary people, according to Daniel Goleman of The New York Times. These studies seek to take the study of creativity out of the laboratory and to focus not just on top achievers in the arts and sciences but also on creative acts in all realms of life. Some of the studies use an index of creativity to evaluate how inventive people are.
Goleman goes on to explain that one goal of the research is to understand better just what allows a person's inventiveness in certain areas to blossom at some points in life, and to identify factors that stifle or encourage inventiveness. "Creativity is a fragile phenomenon, easily crushed," said Teresa Amabile, a psychologist at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. "But if you understand what inhibits it, then you also know how to create the situations where it can flourish."
Goleman's article also cites studies by Amabile and other psychologists who pinpoint how to overcome blocks to creativity and how to free the creative impulse to find its fullest expression. They found that being watched while working or having to produce on demand tends to stifle creativity. The new index, developed at Harvard Medical School by psychiatrist Ruth Richards and psychologist Dennis Kinney is applied by using a structured interview to evaluate people's lives for two aspects of creativity.
Richards and Kinney found that based on a study of lifetime creativity in 461 men and women, fewer than 1% of people have "exceptional" creativity, while about 10% are high in creativity. About 60% of people fall in the categories of "moderate" to "some" creativity. The Lifetime Creativity Scale developed by Richards and Kinney uses a scoring system that scrutinizes interviews about a person's life for signs of innovativeness in leisure and work.
According to a study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Richards and Kinney discovered there is an unexpected connection between manic depression and creativity. Contrary to previous research, it is not those with extreme depression who are the most creative but near relatives, many of whom have mild signs or no symptoms. "The link between creativity and mood disorders is not limited to a handful of eminent people, or to a few fields such as the fine arts, but can be seen at lesser levels in millions of others," Kinney concludes.