All my adult life I have bumped into conclusions made logically by scientists and researchers that say a person’s creativity peaks when they are young. There is no real consensus on how young this happens. Hypotheses vary from those who say eighteen months to others asserting peak creativity happens around twelve just before puberty.
The theories are that creativity is at its highest level when young while we “don’t know better” and have not been conditioned by reason and conformity. This way of thinking says in order to coexist with other people we learn to follow the rules and adhere to certain values (which are usually more about what you can’t do that what you can). The result is creativity has to be placed into a straight-jacketed so we can follow what has already been instead of reinventing our worlds every day like a child does. Growing up we are taught to be polite and nice to people, to fit in, to adhere to what is “normal” (whatever that is!) and not scare others with our creative thoughts.
At least to a degree schools are conformity camps that, in varying degrees, attempt to drill what is conventional and customary into kids. While learning about life skills like readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic we also get smart-stepped into doing mostly what others do and have done. Generally we are taught there is one acceptable, true way of thinking and there is most often only one right answer for a problem (the one the teacher believes). Largely we end up being awarded for writing well, following instructions and regurgitating facts, figures and formulas and NOT for creative and lateral thinking. We are taught to rarely, if ever, question the wisdom and supreme knowledge of teachers and professors.
Research has now begun to show in adulthood we usually do lose a great deal of our creativity but it is more by choice than the cognitive fading that comes with age. The number one culprit falls under the heading of ‘use it or lose it’; we simply stop trying to be creative. We begin to do things one way, we get comfortable, don’t change and settle into easy to follow and relatively mindless ruts.
Habits are not the only things that hide away our creativity. Falling into the ‘expert trap’ obscures it too. ‘Experts’ usually spend more time defending their “hill” than questioning it or developing other approaches. It is easy to become “all-knowing” on a subject and fall into the habit of allowing knowledge make one feel obliged to it.
Eureka! Before all my middle-aged friends begin to wring their hands in “lack of creativity anguish” I want to turn what I have written so far upside down and include material from an article in Psychology Today By Shelly Carson, PhD called “Creativity and the Aging Brain”. She wrote: In a recent study… the University of Toronto found that older participants were… more distractible than their younger counterparts. However, members of this older, distractible group were also better able to use the distracting information to solve problems presented later in the study.
Dr. Carson goes on to tell about other studies on aging and cognition that suggest an aging brain is marked by a broadening focus of attention. She says this lines up with numerous other studies that suggest that a broadly focused state of attention is a trait found in almost all highly creative people. The data suggest widened attention allows one to separate and distinguish quickly all sorts of varying information. Combining remote bits of information is the hallmark of the creative idea, Dr. Carson writes.
Still other credible research shows that the parts of the brain concerning self-consciousness and emotions are thinner in the aging brain which lines up with a diminished need to please and impress others. Dr. Carson calls this, a notable characteristic of both aging individuals and creative luminaries. She goes on to say, both older individuals and creative types are more willing to speak their minds and disregard social expectations than are their younger, more conventional counterparts.
In pondering the subject of creativity and reading about it, my conclusion is older people have a storehouse of knowledge gained from living, learning and experience. Taking bits of that knowledge and seeing them in new and original ways is what a creative brain does. The only barrier to being an older creative type is simply habits and ruts.
Highly fertile ground for deeply creative activity exists in my aging brain. To have more creativity all I need to do is throw off old ways of thinking and allow new ones to come in. That thought will send me out into the world today with a happily altered view and a grateful (and hopefully more creative) mind!
Think left and think right
and think low and think high.
Oh, the thinks you can think up
if only you try!