What is the relationship between creativity and intelligence?

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The relationship between intelligence and creativity is a complex, unilateral dependency. Although most intelligent people are not unusually creative, those people who are unusually creative rarely have measured intelligence quotients under 120, the start of the superior range. Thus, creativity as evidenced in creative productivity does require a minimum of intellectual ability.
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Humans have investigated the nature of intelligence—how to define, measure, and improve it—for as long as there has been philosophy. Plato and Aristotle were fascinated with the concept of intelligence. In the later part of the nineteenth century, working independently, English anthropologist Francis Galton and French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot laid the foundations for psychology’s formal efforts to measure intelligence. Galton invented psychometrics, the principles and procedures used in testing and measurement, and differential psychology, the study of individual differences; Charcot bridged the relationship between people's physiological and psychological components.

Charcot's student Alfred Binet became the most famous name in the history of the study of intelligence by inventing, at the French government’s commission, a way to distinguish schoolchildren who should be placed in special education. This work resulted in the Binet-Simon test in 1905. This test is the basis for all intelligence testing that uses an intelligence quotient (IQ). Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman expanded and refined Binet’s work and produced the first IQ test, the Stanford-Binet test. The twenty-first century version of this test examines intelligence in five areas: fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing, and working memory.

As research into intelligence continued, more complex definitions of the concept have been developed. Tufts University psychologist and psychometrician Robert Sternberg has promoted a theory of intelligence that breaks intelligence into three types: analytical, which is competence on academic tasks and the ability to deal with familiar problems; creative, which is the ability to generate novel ideas in common situations; and practical, which is the ability to deal with everyday situations using one’s own knowledge and experiences. Sternberg further conceptualized that successful intelligence would encompass people’s ability to take advantage of their known strengths and at the same time to compensate for their personal weaknesses.

Another advance in understanding intelligence was Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences. Gardner expanded the intellectual domains that traditional IQ tests assess (verbal and mathematical reasoning and, to a lesser extent, visual-spatial reasoning and memory) to include linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily- kinesthetic, and personal intelligences. His work allowed closer linkage between creative thinking, an obvious manifestation of intelligence, and the cognitive domains it uses. His argument, now generally accepted, is that standardized intelligence testing taps only a few domains at best, and these do not correlate highly with the ability to think creatively.

These and other advances in the study of intelligence promote the concept that intelligence is a meaningful human attribute if it is “successful.” Intelligent people are not those with high IQs but those who are able to adapt to their environment and either modify or accommodate it as necessary. Successful intelligence implies a survival component and that meaning in people’s lives is enhanced as a result of their thinking. Excellent grades, high IQ scores, and high income suggest the presence of high intelligence, but they do not guarantee its continued successful application. However, high intelligence can be found in people who obtain fulfillment and enhance meaning in their world.

Introduction to Creativity

Although creativity as a concept, ability, and process is viewed quite differently across cultures, its study within the branch of developmental psychology is largely Western in orientation and began with the ancient Greeks, who believed their novel discoveries, inventions, and ideas related to the preternatural and mysterious. They understood that their creative genius was manifest in their art, literature, drama, music, ship design, political processes, and military strategies. Later, Christians would relate invention of the novel and practical to what they believed was the divine process of creation: as God created the universe and all within it, human beings were to create new things from the material that God provided. Modern thought has shifted to emphasize creativity as a function of particular, perhaps peculiar, types of human thought, a type of thinking that most seem capable of in modest measure but few are capable of in impressive measure.

Measuring creativity has brought about various definitions. Researchers have looked at the concept in various ways in an attempt to understand its complexity. Creativity researcher C. W. Taylor, in his seminal review of creativity investigations, categorized four main approaches to the subject: the creative-person approach, which studies the characteristics and traits of creative people and what makes them different from most; the creative-process approach, which seeks to understand the process by which creativity occurs, including cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects; the creative-environment approach, which explores social climate and environmental variables that promote or inhibit the development of creative thoughts and products; and the creative-product approach, which explores the end products of the creative process and the ways in which they are unusual, inventive, and useful. The presence of creative products always presumes the presence of creative people who originated them. This last approach emphasizes the ability to think “outside the box” in ways that result in effective, successful change.

Another important dimension in considering individual intelligence and creative thought is social surroundings and personal history. The difference between intelligent people and intelligent, creative people is the latter’s ability to formulate a new idea or response to the situation at hand. These creative individuals use their previous experiences, background, education, and cultural inheritance to make a difference that is new and of high quality. Because people are social and interactive, the wealth of this collective experience refines creative thinking and output. Innovation and ingenuity result when creative people are open to receiving interactive experiences, then mentally manipulate and rethink them. Creative people may isolate themselves to produce their work, but their isolation is preceded by necessary interactions and relationships. The end product—a new recipe, novel, dance movement, gadget, or synthesis of ideas—is then brought back into the social arena for a greater good and use.

Intelligence and Creativity

Researchers have attempted to answer the question of whether it is necessary for creative people to be intelligent and for intelligent people to be creative. In general, studies show that intelligence, as measured as IQ, tends to be relatively stable over time, while creativity, though also generally stable, is more variable than verbal and mathematical reasoning, the aspects of intelligence that IQ tests emphasize.

Cognitive psychologist J. P. Guilford and associates developed the concept of divergent thinking (DT), which is a matrix defined by twenty-four intellectual abilities, or factors, that are involved in thinking creatively. These factors include fluency of thinking (ability to come up with a number of different solutions to a problem), flexibility of thinking (ability to simultaneously process the different possible solutions to a problem), originality (ability to come up with new ideas), sensitivity to problems, and figural and semantic elaboration (ability to process the details of an idea, whether through pictures or words). Their work, which remains the best attempt to quantitatively relate intelligence to creative thinking, showed a direct positive correlation between divergent thinking scores and levels of creativity, at least until they studied highly creative individuals. Among this group, the correlations between divergent thinking skills and creative productivity markedly fell off. What seems apparent is that highly creative persons use abilities other than those twenty-four divergent thinking factors. The inherent problem in studying highly creative people is similar to the problem of establishing IQs for extremely intelligent people; it is difficult to develop a test that can validly and reliably assess abilities in these highly gifted people, whether highly intelligent, highly creative, or both.

Another paradoxical finding in research linking intelligence with creativity is that people with average to high-average IQs often score higher on tests of creative ability than do people with superior IQs (score of 120 or greater). According to the threshold theory of intelligence and creativity, this is not because more intelligent people have less creative aptitude; rather, more intelligent people (again, defined by IQ) rely more on their superior convergent thinking (CT) and problem-solving skills than do others. Convergent thinking is thought that is logical, rational, and systematically progressive, whether inductive or deductive. Verbal-semantic and logical-mathematical reasoning are the most common examples.

Intelligence and creativity are extensively studied in terms of both their individual natures and their relationship to each other. As researchers work to unite intelligence and creativity, it remains fundamentally clear that these are not unitary concepts that can be linearly related, as both are fluid, multidimensional capacities that converge in several spheres. Intelligence is necessary for creativity to exist and to be realized in creative products, but it is not sufficient by itself to quicken the creative process. Some creative domains, such as painting, cooking, and graphic design, may require less convergent thinking ability than others, such as architecture, engineering, physics, and mathematics. As more researchers attempt to understand the complex relationship between intelligence and creativity, it has become apparent that more variables are involved and need consideration than are understood. It also remains to be seen if scientific research into these desired attributes will be intelligent and creative enough to fully reveal their relationship.


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